Former teen addict pushing for change to Utah vaping laws

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Health officials say teen vaping is an epidemic in our state, and it’s only going to get worse if it goes unchecked.

One former addict is hoping her story will help as lawmakers roll out a plan to address it.

Youth vaping rates are skyrocketing in Utah.

Katie Bertram knows that all too well.

“A lot of my friends were doing it, and everybody around me was doing it, you know, and they were sharing it with me, so I decided maybe it’s something that I wanted to try and get into,” she said.

She started just last year as a 19-year-old. She says the flavors made it easy. First mango, and then mint.

It didn’t take long for addiction to kick in and she was vaping at every opportunity.

“I started to notice the effects of it, breathlessness, chest pain and I got nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to have the things in my life that I love to do,” said Bertram.

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 38,000 middle and high school students in our state are vaping.

They say that means more Utah kids are struggling with a nicotine addiction than ever before.

“It’s happening in the back of the classroom, it’s happening in the bathrooms, it’s happening in their cars, it’s happening everywhere that we can find it,” said Stewart Hudnall, vice principal at Herriman High School.

State lawmakers say they are taking a holistic approach this year, introducing a number of bills to address the issue.

They would do things like creating a no-tolerance policy for selling nicotine products to children, a new tax to hire officers to focus on violations, require e-cigarettes to be moved to age-restricted areas of stores and create an education program to discourage youth from using the products.

Bertram is backing those ideas and others this legislative session because she knows the grip vaping can have.

She says it was a long flight, but she gave it up after about eight months.

She says her mother played a big role in helping her get to this point and has a message for other parents.

“It really pays off to be supportive, and it pays off to be understanding so that you don’t chase them away from talking to you about these things,” said Bertram.

She also hopes other teens can learn from her story.

“I’m happy with the choice I made, and I would never look back on that choice,” she said.

Bertram wants to be a voice in favor of vaping legislation this year up on Capitol Hill.

She plans to testify during public hearings.

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