Teen vaping has been declared an epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General.
Once thought a better alternative to tobacco use, inhaling the vapor from electronic cigarettes has resulted in serious and unexpected health issues, medical experts have said.
In an effort to understand the trend, members of the Kenston Parent Teacher Organization gathered last week to learn about the dangers of vaping from Bainbridge police Officer Brian Reardon.
A 23-year member of the Bainbridge department, Officer Reardon is a resource officer at the schools and an instructor in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program presented to students.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018, the latest statistics available. About 5 percent of middle school students and 20 percent of high school students nationwide use e-cigarettes, according to the CDC. Ironically, the rate of cigarettes smoking in high school students is just 8.1 percent.
One of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes is JUUL. The devices are battery operated and work by heating a pod of liquid creating vapor that is inhaled by the user. The liquid contains nicotine, different flavorings and other chemicals such as propylene glycol and benzoic acid.
“I got involved because it is a problem,” Officer Reardon told the parents. Two-thirds of the students using e-cigarettes are aware of the chemicals in the vapor, he said, adding that one JUUL pod contains the same amount of nicotine as one pack of 20 cigarettes.
The rate of e-cigarette use by teens is outpacing that of adults, he said.
Kids think it looks cool, he added.
Some Kenston students have told him that they are addicted to the nicotine and want to get the message out to others, Officer Reardon said. One has been vaping for over two years and one has been vaping for a little over one year, he said, and another vapes on and off when he feels stress.
Teens apparently are vaping on the school bus, in the restrooms, in the halls between classes, in classrooms and locker rooms, he said. They do it as soon as they get out to the parking lot at school in the afternoon, and at home in their bedrooms.
Though Ohio raised the legal age to purchasing both tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21, underage users are getting the devices and pods from older kids sometimes at an inflated cost, Officer Reardon said. The cost for a starter kit is $50 which comes with the e-cigarette, four multi-flavored pods and a charger.
Vaping is legal for adults, he said, and the devices are sold in Bainbridge.
Students are aware of the high dose of nicotine with JUUL pods but do not feel it has the same health risks of regular cigarettes, Officer Reardon said.
Medical experts report that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive, inhaled flavorings can contain chemicals linked to lung diseases and ultra fine particles in the pods could also be dangerous to inhale.
The flavoring often draw children to using and liking e-cigarettes, he said.
Because of the concern over vaping in teens, the subject is now covered in the DARE program at Kenston presented each fall.
Kenston Superintendent Nancy Santilli said that the school district is trying to create an awareness and preventative education in collaboration with the police department.
The devices are very sophisticated and it is used quickly and that use is easily missed by others, Mrs. Santilli said. It is about awareness among the staff and about educating parents, she said. “All of us need to take a pro-active stand,” she said.
Officer Reardon said fifth grade is a good place to start education on the subject so the students are aware of it.
At the high school level, students caught vaping must take an online education course on e-cigarettes, Mrs. Santilli said.
She encouraged parents to talk to their children about the dangers of using e-cigarettes.
State Rep. Diane Grendell of Chester has sent out a letter to parents not only as their representative “but also as an individual who is concerned about harmful effects vaping has on our children. When a child vapes, they are inhaling poisonous materials such as nicotine, potential carcinogens and lead.”
She is also providing a program on teen vaping at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Bainbridge Library.
“I care deeply about the health and well being of my constituents and want to ensure you are aware of the dangers of vaping and what the state has done through the recently passed state budget to address this issue,” she said.
“Vaping is not safe. Vaping is addictive and is harmful to brain development for users under 25,” Rep. Grendell said. “Nicotine, chemical flavors and additives are harmful to the lungs and heart.”
While electronic cigarettes are advertised as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, and due to this may be perceived as a good decision to make among youth, an electronic cigarette may contain just as much nicotine as a pack of traditional cigarettes, she said.
“Thankfully, Ohio just became the second state in the Midwestern United States to pass a Tobacco 21 law,” Rep. Grendell said.
In House Bill 166, for the fiscal year of 2020-2021, a provision was put in place to raise the legal age of purchasing tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21 years old. “By doing so we are seeking to prevent our youth from vaping,” she said. Research indicates that by increasing the legal age to 21, over time, smoking-related deaths will be reduced by 10 percent. Anyone with concerns about vaping can call her office at 614-644-5088 or email her at Rep76@ohiohouse.gov.