Mary Ann O’Garro, epidemiologist with Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, presents recent findings to the Board of County Commissioners during a regular meeting on Aug. 27.

During a Board of Thurston County Commissioners meeting hosted at Yelm Middle School last month, Mary Ann O’Garro, an epidemiologist with Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, presented a report on teen health to commissioners and the public. 

Among other topics of concern, O’Garro presented a troubling set of statistics showing an increase in vaping among teens in Thurston County. The spike reflects nationwide trends. 

According to her report, which was sourced from the state’s 2018 Healthy Youth Survey, nearly one out of every three 12th graders in Thurston County are vaping on a regular basis, which is up by 9 percent from two years ago.

Lewis County Public Health and Social Service reported that more than one in three Lewis County students also admitted in the survey to using e-cigarettes or vaping products in the past month. 

Another concern is that nearly one out of every five 10th graders — students who, on average, aren’t old enough to currently purchase vaping products — also vape regularly. 

“The reason why that’s of concern, in part, is that vaping — the liquid that you use — can contain a range of things,” O’Garro told the board during the Aug. 27 meeting. “There’s flavoring, there’s chemicals, there’s a range of things. But when it comes to youth, why we’re particularly concerned is (because) vaping is not considered safe for youth at all, and we just wanted to raise that awareness.”

A graphic, with data sourced from the state’s Healthy Youth Survey, shows how 10th graders in Thurston County obtained their vapes.

In the weeks since O’Garro made the presentation to the commissioners, a small string of recent vaping-related deaths nationwide have led the Trump Administration to consider a ban on e-cigarettes. 

“People are dying with vaping, so we’re looking at it very closely,” Trump said at a recent press conference. 

Washington health officials have also recently declared a statewide outbreak in vaping-related illnesses, according to The Seattle Times, after two young people in Spokane County who were using vaping products contracted pulmonary lung disease. 

Back in April, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation to raise the smoking and vaping age from 18 to 21 years old. The law goes into effect next year. 

According to additional information from the Healthy Youth Survey, about 51 percent of 10th graders who vaped were surveyed as having received their vaping products from someone who either loaned it to them or was borrowed. About 20 percent say they gave someone else money to purchase it. 

O’Garro said the best way to reduce the upward-trending habit among youth is to simply talk about it. Parents also may not even know their children own or use a vaping product because they come in many shapes and sizes. 

“One of the things that is tried and true, and remains true for the health of teens, is that talking with youth you know is really important to whether they use any substance. It matters,” O’Garro said. “That is shown, over and over by research, to have such a significant impact.” 

The state Healthy Youth Survey is currently conducted every two years in public schools, O’Garro told the Nisqually Valley News in an email. The survey is given to sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders during a class period. 

The survey is voluntary and conducted across all school districts in Thurston County. 

Other data presented to county commissioners included information on youth prescription drug abuse, suicide prevention and caring adults. Data found that 10 percent of 12th graders were abusing prescription drugs (which is actually seeing a slight decline), nearly one in four 10th graders have considered attempting suicide, and one in four Thurston County eighth-graders report that they do not have an adult to talk about important things with. 

Thurston County Commissioner Gary Edwards applauded O’Garro for presenting the board with the information on youth health and said he hopes the county takes further action to support the public in guiding youth. 

“It is a total community job to make that happen because there are a lot of challenges out there for young people and parents,” Edwards said.

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