Noelle Cerone has noticed a disturbing trend at her high school situated in the mountains just north of Steamboat Springs.
“I know a lot of kids who have changed over time because they have gotten addicted to the nicotine in vape pens,” the Steamboat Mountain School junior wrote this week in a letter to state lawmakers.
“I have seen other young kids not care about their grades or anything at school anymore because all they care about is having their JUUL (vape pen) 24/7.”
Because they see adults vaping in restaurants and other public places, Cerone said, some students in her town think it’s OK to do it in school, even when a teacher is watching.
“They just can’t stop,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s just crazy to see.”
Cerone said she also has a lung condition that makes her sensitive to second-hand vapor and smoke. That’s why she was motivated to send a letter more than 150 miles to the House Health and Insurance Committee at the state Capitol.
The committee was debating a bill Wednesday that would ban e-cigarettes from all the places regular cigarettes are currently banned, such as restaurants.
Cerone’s story from Steamboat is similar to many others told by high school students to lawmakers this year as the Legislature works to address a teen vaping epidemic in the state.
According to national research, teens in Colorado vape more than in any other state and at twice the rate of the national average.
At some schools in the Denver area, concerned students are partnering with principals to start clubs that aim to curb teen vaping.
They’re also showing up at lengthy afternoon committee hearings to speak in favor of two bills aimed at tackling the issue in very different ways.
The first piece of legislation would let counties regulate the sales of all nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, for the first time.
That means they could raise the age limit for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The proposal is nearing final passage in the House before it heads to the governor for a signature.
The second piece of legislation is the one that would ban the use of e-cigarettes everywhere traditional cigarettes are banned, including in restaurants, hotel rooms and other public spaces.
The bill would also end a hotel’s ability to designate any kind of smoking rooms.
Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, is sponsoring the bill to update the Clean Indoor Air Act.
“The fact that … an impressionable teenager could go into a mall or a restaurant and see somebody using a vape pen and know they can use that, but they can’t use a cigarette, sends a message that ‘Oh, this isn’t bad for my health so I must be able to use it.’”
“This is by no means a partisan issue, this is a recognized health crisis,” Larson continued.
Larson said the state has spent millions of dollars to treat the side effects of tobacco use.
His bill passed Wednesday evening in the House Health and Insurance Committee with bipartisan support. It now heads to the House floor for debate.
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.