Vaping among teens an increasing corporate and community concern
This is a second in a two-part series.
SCOTTSBLUFF — Though vaping is illegal for high school students, it has become a popular past time for teens. They can obtain devices and liquid pods, which are largely advertised as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco.
Students have been caught vaping in class, locker rooms, bathrooms and elsewhere on school property. As teachers and school resource officers work together to remove vape items from the schools, one brand is more commonly found.
“The large percentage of what you’re seeing is the JUUL starter kits,” said Gering Junior High School Resource Officer Robert Gleim.
There are also JUUL copycats, such as the MarkTen Elite, a nicotine delivery device, and the PAX Era, a marijuana delivery device.
Marketing for e-cigarettes is also similar to cigarettes. Suzanne Forkner, community health educator, senior division of public health, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said e-cigarettes have also received “a face-lift or an upgrade,” which includes, backpacks, accessories and apparel. One company, Vaprware, has a line of merchandise, which provides hands-free use for vaping. For example, the strings on a hoodie are the device.
Scottsbluff High School sophomore Josie Amoo shared how the marketing scheme makes vaping look cool compared to cigarettes.
“I feel like the way it is advertised to be safer than cigarettes is the main reason people think it’s not bad for you,” she said. “We talked about it in class and I talked with my mom about it, just about the cancer causing chemicals in it and how there’s not enough research to prove what it does. I think that’s the scariest part because we don’t know yet, so it could be worse than smoking. It’s too early to tell and I think, again, that’s why people don’t think it affects them because there’s nothing to prove that it’s bad.”
According to Vaprware’s website, “We are for everyone that ... enjoys cannabis or needs medical marijuana ... relies on CBD to soothe aches and pains, relieve anxiety, relieve symptoms related to medical conditions, assist sleep or train harder ... Is trying to quit smoking, or who loves smoking but no longer can in many places.”
Gleim said the marketing strategy has led to misconceptions about the product. Some reports are along the lines that vaping is cleaner than cigarettes and you can buy them with tobacco-free cartridges, Gleim said.
“I have done some research and have yet to find a vape pen that doesn’t have nicotine on a person,” Gleim said. “All of the vape pens and starter packages we’re finding have nicotine pouches in them.”
After public backlash, JUUL released a statement on Nov. 13 which stated it was not targeting children with its product. As a result, the company’s flavored pods will no longer be available in retail establishments. They will be available on the JUUL website, but customers will be requested to provide their name, date of birth, permanent address, and the last four digits of their Social Security number in order to complete an order.
According to the statement, “this information is verified by a third party and cross-referenced with publicly available records to confirm the person is at least 21 years of age. If a user’s public records fail to match or they do not wish to provide their Social Security number, they must upload a valid government-issued I.D. for review by a member of the company’s compliance team.”
Ted Kwong, of JUUL Media Relations and Communications, issued the following statement to the Star-Herald about the company’s efforts to reduce underage use of their products: “We stopped the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our industry leading site, eliminated our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use. We are committed to working with the Surgeon General, FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in this effort.”
Kwong said the company is committed to preventing youth access as a means to fulfill its mission.
“We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated,” Kwong said. “Our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products. We have taken dramatic action to contribute to solve this problem, which is why we implemented the JUUL Labs Action Plan to address underage use of JUUL products.”
With the increased popularity of vaping, conferences and conventions around the industry has grown. Forkner said there are also contests, prizes and competitions.
“They have competitions on how far you can blow, how long the vapor cloud stays,” Forkner said. “We’re up against a huge challenge.”
As the vaping craze continues to increase in popularity among youth, the marketing strategy targeting adult smokers does not fool some teenagers.
“I think they do target them toward teens, even though they say they don’t,” said Jacob Krul, Scottsbluff High School junior.
Krul believes the companies are in it for a profit and are not concerned about the people who use the products.
“If they can make money, they’re going to do it,” Krul said. “If that’s making them look cool, they will do it and then they put nicotine in it so the teens stay on it.”
EDUCATION AND AWARENESS
Forkner said DHHS spends a lot of time educating the public and working with schools to implement comprehensive tobacco policies.
“They have to have a plan for what they do if they catch a student, what to do with devices and where the devices are disposed,” Forkner said. “If you’re talking to youth, you have to make sure they know it’s not water vapor (in the pods) and it contains nicotine.”
Krul shared how more of his peers have started to use vaping apparatus and he has seen an increase in use.
“There’s only so much peers and teachers can do to get people to stop,” Krul said. “It comes down to the person to stop or not.”
Krul also said he is sure a lot of students who use e-cigarettes don’t actually do the research.
“Their friends do it, so they’re going to fit in with their group,” Krul said.
With the prevalence of vaping increasing in schools, Scottsbluff High School faculty and students are working together to educate others about the health repercussions. Student council members met with high school principal Mike Halley about organizing an assembly.
“We were discussing something along the lines of having a student, (or) a group of students give the assembly, rather than a teacher,” Krul said. “Coming from the student body might have more of an effect than having an adult say it.”
As vaping devices enter the schools, Gleim said adolescences who use these products can become addicted quickly.
Adolescents are young and can get addicted quicker because their brains are not fully developed until around age of 25. Until their brain is fully developed, the synapses in the brain cannot develop properly, which leads to an addiction faster as the brain learns the vaping behavior.
“That’s one of the bad parts. All of the kids that are doing this right now, they are all guinea pigs,” Gleim said.
Anyone wishing to quit any kind of tobacco or vaping can call the Nebraska Quitline 24/7 at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569).