E-cigarettes gain popularity among teens
CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Tobacco cigarettes’ popularity is going up in smoke as a new smoking trending gains traction among America’s youth.
Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or vapes, are battery-powered devices that heat liquid-based nicotine into an inhalable vapor, USA Today said. This liquid can also be flavored, making it more appealing and taste better than regular cigarettes.
This type of device is becoming one of the more popular tobacco products among teens. Federal law prohibits selling them to anyone under 18 years old - just like cigarettes - but data from the 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey show about 12 percent of high school students and 3 percent of middle school students had used them in the past 30 days.
Even Franklin County’s youth are jumping on the “vaping” bandwagon. Several districts reported seeing an uptick in the amount of students being caught with e-cigarettes over the past few years, and an official from Waynesboro Area School District said staff at its high school find an average of one device about every two weeks.
Now that more and more teens are turning to vaping, the Food and Drug Administration has declared this situation an “epidemic,” according to USA Today.
“Teenagers are becoming regular users, and the proportion of regular users is increasing,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “We’re going to have to take action.”
Teen vaping on the rise?
Although the growing trend has hit school districts, overall the number of students in the county who reported using these devices actually slightly declined within two years.
The 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey shows about 10 percent of students had smoked an e-cigarette within the past 30 days, which is about a 1.5 percent reduction compared to data from 2015. This number is less than the statewide average of 16.3 percent.
In addition, a majority of Franklin County students who admitted to using vapes were in high school. About 16 percent of students in 10th grade said they used the devices, along with about 21 percent of 12th grade students, the 2017 data show.
The falling number of students who reported using e-cigarettes is still higher than the number who said they smoked regular cigarettes within the 30-day period.
In fact, the number of youth using cigarettes has consistently decreased a little more than 2 percent in five years. In 2013, 7.8 percent of students reported smoking this item, which drops down to 6.4 percent in 2015 and 5.4 percent in 2017.
Slightly fewer students may be using e-cigarettes than a couple years ago, but officials from the three school districts said they have seen more vaping activity on high school campuses.
Tuscarora and Waynesboro school districts reported seeing an increase in students with vapes between three to five years ago. Greencastle-Antrim School District also noticed a rise in this activity last year. However, Chambersburg Area School District said it has not noticed any difference at its schools.
One specific e-cigarette that appears to be common among teens is the Juul, according to Steven Pappas, principal at Waynesboro Area Senior High School. This is a smaller device that uses a pod full of the liquid, which can be replaced when it runs out. Pappas said they have found more students with these, because they are smaller and easier to hide and don’t produce the odor like larger vapes.
“When we first started introducing and educating the staff here, they thought they were more like these little flash drives,” he continued.
Not only can some devices be concealed from teachers and parents, but many teens also believe that vaping is healthier than smoking traditional tobacco products, according to Chip Dickey, acting principal at James Buchanan High School.
However, this may not be the case.
Cameron Kirkwood, a registered nurse practitioner at Summit Pulmonology, said it is a common belief among youth that the flavoring is the only ingredient in the liquid, but some liquids can contain nicotine, heavy metals and other potential cancer-causing chemicals.
“There are fewer chemicals than cigarettes, but cigarettes are extremely dangerous,” he continued. “So why inhale even a fraction of that?”
Children who vape also risk damaging their health. Very little medical research has been done due to the devices only making their way to the United State within the past decade, which means there are no longer-term studies that demonstrate it’s safe. The nurse practitioner said short-term research shows it could exacerbate respiratory issues. It can also increase the amount of future smoking for teens, and lead to a lifetime of nicotine dependence, which can poison children and hurt brain development.
“E-cigs are on pace to outsell cigarettes in our lifetime,” Kirkwood said. “I hope with more awareness and understanding, smoking of any kind declines significantly.”
But there is another, simpler explanation as to why teens are drawn to vaping.
“It’s a classic sense of kids want what adults have,” said Steve Kane, owner of Vast Vapor in Chambersburg, Waynesboro and Hagerstown, Md. He added it’s no different than teens wanting something else adult-oriented, like alcohol.
Unlike local districts, the store hasn’t seen more teens interested in vapes in the six years it’s been open. According to Kane, this is due to the company’s policy of carding every customer to make sure they are at least 18 years old. The store is so strict about not selling to those underage, that minors aren’t even allowed to sit at the tester bar where smokers can try out different flavors. Sales are also refused to adults who staff suspect are purchasing products for minors.
“In our opinion, even before it was federal law, it’s something that we did,” Kane continued. “Now especially with it being federal law, we want to make it very clear that if you’re not a legal age to buy a tobacco product, then we can’t service you or even remotely service you in any way, shape or form.”
In fact, he said it’s usually parents who voice their frustration with the rule.
Kane told the story of a mother who came in with her 12-to-13-year-old son and started asking questions about a device. At one point the boy spoke up, so the employee immediately took back the e-cigarette and said they could not help her.
“She literally stormed out really unhappy, saying that she would never come back in because of that,” he added.
This is even similar to something Pappas, the Waynesboro superintendent, has seen in his district. He said some parents are unhappy once they find out their child’s e-cigarette was confiscated by the school.
“Some of them say because they do it, it’s okay that their children do it,” he added.
Preventing teen vaping
For students who are caught with the devices on campus, there can be severe consequences.
Chambersburg, Tuscarora, Greencastle-Antrim and Waynesboro school districts all have policies prohibiting e-cigarettes on campus. If a student is discovered with one, the punishment ranges from two days of in-school suspension to 10 days of out-of-school suspension, depending on the district. Chambersburg students could also be fined or moved into an alternative program. Tuscarora students could be expelled.
Drug policy violations could also come into play depending on what the staff find in the vape.
Pappas said a Waynesboro student once went as far to fill an e-cigarette with liquid containing THC, which is a chemical found in marijuana plants that gives the “high” effect when smoked.
Despite this instance, most children are sticking to the typical liquid rather than opting for other substances. The youth survey data show around 10 percent of students reported using marijuana or hash oil, which is less than the 23 percent who used nicotine and the 65 percent who said they use just flavoring.
In order to discourage vape use, all districts incorporated the topic into their health and wellness curricula. Peer leaders also promote healthy decisions at Greencastle-Antrim, and Waynesboro posts informative articles about it on its social media. Plans are also in the works to post informational posters throughout Waynesboro Area Senior High school to educate students on the dangers of vaping.
The federal government is getting involved, as well.
According to USA Today, the FDA earlier this month threatened to stop the sale of e-cigarettes if major manufacturers, such as Juul, Vuse, MarkTen XL, Blu and Logic, can’t prove they’re doing enough to keep their products away from children and teens. It gave these companies 60 days to submit plans to prevent youth vaping, which could result in their items being pulled from the market if the agency doesn’t think it goes far enough.
This may sound like a good plan, but Kane said the problem is it doesn’t penalize those really at fault. He discussed how many of these companies don’t directly sell their products, and instead they are purchased through convenience stores and other wholesale partners.
The focus needs to be on the people breaking the law, he added, instead of risking taking away something that has helped many people.
One way this can be done is by imposing fines on minors who buy the products in the first place, according to Kane. He compared this situation to a teen who is pulled over for driving 100 mph on Interstate 81 and is pulled over.
“They don’t shut (the highway) down,” he added.
It’s also important to hold stores accountable, as well. Kane said there should be a large fine - $5,000 to $10,000 - imposed on businesses caught selling these devices to minors.
“That’s basically what it boils down to,” he continued. “People who have the license to sell these types of items need to have the social responsibility to make sure they’re doing their due diligence to make sure they’re not getting into the hands (of minors).”
Information from: Public Opinion, http://www.publicopiniononline.com