More than half of Utah teens who say they drink alcohol also use e-cigarettes, survey finds

Utah youth who drink alcohol also frequently use electronic cigarettes, a new state survey has found.

Nearly 60 percent of teenagers who said they drank in the previous month also said they used e-cigarettes or other vaping products, according to the poll conducted by the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and the Utah Department of Human Services (DHS).

State health officials said that’s concerning because both alcohol and nicotine are known to damage developing brains. And the percentage of teens using both substances together has increased slightly since the last survey conducted in 2015.

The findings were released jointly Wednesday by UDOH and DHS — part of a biennial youth survey that offers insights into various substance abuse and other health issues facing the state’s teens.

Susannah Burt, a prevention program manager at DHS, reminded parents to “be thinking about the consequences of providing substances to the developing brain.

“When we start changing the way our brains develop by adding different chemicals to it, it can set us up differently as adults,” Burt said in an interview.

Officials surveyed students in grade 8, as well as high-school sophomores and seniors.

They found about 11 percent of students report current e-cigarette use, following by about 9 percent using alcohol statewide and less than 3 percent smoking conventional cigarettes. The tiny percentage using cigarettes is encouraging, Burt said, and has held steady in recent years. Percentages of teens using alcohol also have generally remained at the same level in recent years.

But the prevalence of youth using e-cigarettes, she said, has climbed dramatically over the last five years. In 2013, less than 5 percent of the state’s teens used electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine in vapor form.

“Nicotine is highly addictive and most adult smokers become dependent before the age of 19, making use of tobacco products among adolescents a concern,” Karlee Adams, program manager for the UDOH Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, said in a statement.

Other findings suggested that teen usage of alcohol and regular cigarettes was higher in Utah’s rural areas.

Cigarette use was highest in the tri-county area spanning Uintah, Duchesne and Daggett counties, at about 6 percent of youths. Alcohol use was highest in Carbon, Emery and Grand counties, at 15.3 percent of young people.

Rates of e-cigarette use, meanwhile, were highest in Weber and Morgan counties. That can largely be tied to the high number of vape shops that moved into the two counties in recent years, according to Burt.

The survey found a third of Utah students borrowed e-cigarettes from someone else, with the rest either giving someone money to buy them, obtaining them from an older buyer who already had them, or purchasing them directly from a vape shop.

In their report, health officials recommended limiting locations where flavored tobacco and alcohol products are sold; increasing prices of e-cigarettes; and stronger enforcement of laws banning adults from giving alcohol to youth, among other steps.

They also encouraged parents to talk with their children and “set clear rules about tobacco and alcohol use.”

“Even though more research is needed, we already know that nicotine and alcohol use damage the developing brain,” said Adams, who called for collaboration among state officials and policymakers “to protect our youth from e-cigarettes and underage drinking.”

“It is important that we work together because, ultimately, we all want to prevent addiction in adulthood,” she said.