Concerns over lung health and youth are driving educational efforts in Chaffee County aimed at discouraging vaping as well as tobacco and cannabis use. It comes as headlines continue about a sometimes-fatal lung ailment tied to vaping occurring across the country and growing awareness of issues of youth smoking, whether tobacco or cannabis.

Image courtesy of Yale Medicine.

In Colorado, there has been at least one confirmed death from lung ailment tied to vaping, and numerous people, most young, hospitalized. While AVV has reached out to local healthcare providers regarding the impact of vaping in this county, none have responded to our numerous requests for more information. As further information becomes available, AVV will share that information.

Liz Sielatycki who heads the coalition known as Chaffee County Youth Alliance (part of the Communities That Care initiative) is in the third year working to identify health risk factors in the community and develop strategies to reduce those risk factors among youth in the community. She works for Family and Youth Initiatives (FYI) in the Prevention Division of Colorado Human Services as Communities That Care Facilitator.

Sielatycki said there are a number of health risks being monitored by the coalition, and some of the recent local statistical data representing the communities of Salida, Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and Nathrop, are sobering.

  • Substance Use: Youth in Chaffee County report high levels of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use according to 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) data. At the time of completing the survey, 46 percent  of high school students reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days, 31.6 percent used marijuana in the last 30 days, 44.8 percent used an electronic vapor product in the last 30 days and 17.2 percent reported smoking a traditional cigarette on one or more of the last 30 days. Our local statistics are significantly higher than both the regional and state averages from 2017.
  • Mental Health: At the time of the survey, 19.8 percent of high school students in Chaffee County reported that they made a plan about how they would attempt suicide over the last 12 months and eight percent reported that they did make an attempt over the last 12 months. Sielatycki said the data represents the communities of Salida, Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and Nathrop.

Using research developed at the University of Washington, a risk and protective factor assessment work group identified three risk and three protective factors as priorities for community planning. These included the availability of substances; early initiation of substance use and the attitudes and involvement of parents in substance use.

Protective factors identified included community opportunities for pro-social involvement; school rewards for pro-social involvement and family opportunities for pro-social involvement. The group prioritized prevention strategies, with an eye toward focusing on protective factor strategies once risk factor strategies were implemented.

They often work with educators, including local school boards; one recent effort was to help support training in “How to Talk to Young People About Vaping.”

In September, the group made a presentation to Chaffee County Commissioners asking for their support. The group also encouraged board members to consider opting out of any effort to approved so-called marijuana hospitality open use areas in restaurants.

A year ago, members on the Key Leader and Community Board held their first Community Planning Workshop and after several meetings, selected strategies to address three identified priority risk factors: the availability of substances; early initiation of use before age 13; and parental attitudes and involvement in substance abuse.

Strategies include building public support for conventional enforcement of existing laws to fight the ease of substance availability; building support for evidence-based school substance abuse prevention curricula; and utilizing mass media resources to reduce favorable parental attitudes and involvement in substance abuse. The group wants to leverage statewide mass media campaigns to change community and social norms on the issue.

FYI’s vision statement is “Chaffee County residents are the safest, healthiest and most self-sufficient in Colorado.” The Chaffee County Youth Alliance mission statement says it “serves our community by creating opportunities, removing barriers and allocating resources to cultivate positive relationships and a promote youth and family well-being.”

“I think the narrative is starting to shift already,” said Sielatycki.  “What we’ve been hearing from youth already is actually ‘we need help quitting.’”

A year ago, members on the Key Leader and Community Board held their first Community Planning Workshop and after several meetings, selected strategies to address the three identified priority risk factors: the availability of substances; early initiation of use before age 13; and parental attitudes and involvement in substance abuse.

Strategies include building public support for conventional enforcement of existing laws to fight the ease of substance availability; building support for evidence-based school substance abuse prevention curricula; and utilizing mass media resources to reduce favorable parental attitudes and involvement in substance abuse. The group wants to leverage statewide mass media campaigns to change community and social norms on the issue.