LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) – Cache Valley schools handed over dozens of confiscated nicotine products to the Bear River Health Department Monday to be properly disposed of. This coordination between school districts and the health department also involves local law enforcement agencies.

It is illegal for those under the age of 21 to use tobacco products but vaping still seems to have a hold on Utah’s youth by making those products seem safer, and even more fun than traditional cigarettes. Health officials want parents to know the signs of e-cigarette and vape use.   

“We only have one brain, and we need to take care of it,” Mariela Thompson told ABC4. Thompson is a health educator for the health department. She helps educate teens in Box Elder County, Cache County, and Rich County about the dangers of nicotine.   

“It can affect the way your brain develops, your intention span in school, mood swings,” Thompson said. “According to the surgeon general, they are at risk for long-term effects of addiction, mood disorders and permanent lowering of impulse control.”   

Nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and vape pens, are illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or use.  

“Nicotine use is not only damaging to your health but also very addictive,” 7th-grade student Lauren Hartwell said. “Not only is vaping a health risk, but it also has a detrimental effect on the environment.”

The majority of youth in Utah are like Hartwell in that they do not use nicotine products. However, that doesn’t mean preteens and teens are immune to the drug. In fact, teens are seven times more likely to vape nicotine than adults.   

“Many of them have flavors and that’s what may make them more appealing or more attractive to youth,” Thompson stated.

Laws in Utah prevent these products from being sold within a specific distance from schools. The health department helps enforce that law and officials say it does help prevent some students from getting their hands on these products.  

The most recent Student Health and Risk Prevention survey, more commonly referred to as SHARP, shows that nearly six percent of students in grades 6 through 12 (in northern Utah) said they had vaped within the last 30 days prior to taking the survey. Among 12th graders, that percentage rose to nearly nine percent.  

Many still believe that vaping is not as dangerous as smoking a cigarette. But Thompson said, “It’s always important to note that there is nicotine in those products.”

Nicotine is the drug in cigarettes that makes them highly addictive and damages developing brains as aforementioned.  

The state allows schools to confiscate these products in hopes it will help deter some students from continued use of nicotine. Bear River Health Department Health Officer Jordan Mathis added: “We know these youth are price-sensitive and these things (he said pointing to a table covered with vape pens, e-cigarettes, other nicotine products), they aren’t always cheap. So, taking them away from youth creates another barrier for them to continue use.”  

It is impossible for schools to find all their students who use these products. Health officials said that there are giveaways parents can look out for and know if their child is vaping. The easiest to recognize is the sweet or fruity scents of these products.

A parent may notice their child, his or her clothes, or room often smells like candy or something like candy.

“Also, mood swings, irritability even leaving the gathering room as well,” Thompson stated. She said leaving the gathering room is often a very strong sign. If a child is stepping out during a family function often, he or she may be leaving to vape. She explained that constant dry mouth is another tell-tale sign. “Also, a constant cough.”  

Health officials encourage parents to talk to their children about nicotine and its dangers if they suspect their children may be using it. For those who have children with an addiction, one resource connects them with professionals to create an individualized plan to quit. That resource can be found here.