AP NEWS

Vaping addiction grows into ‘epidemic’

October 7, 2018

GREENWICH — It looks like a flash drive — until a student glances around, bends down and takes a hit from the innocuous stick containing vape liquid while on the bus, in the bathroom or in class.

Most teenagers smoke these devices, called Juuls, for a nicotine buzz; some fill the pods with THC oil. Teenagers stow Juuls in their wallets and pockets. Girls stick them in their yoga pants and bras. They bedazzle them or etch into them like tree bark.

Underage vaping, a problem nationwide, continues to surge in Greenwich schools. Kids now start as young as 10, and by senior year, roughly a third of Greenwich teens report vaping consistently.

“Vaping is absolutely an epidemic,” Greenwich High Dean of Student Life Lorraine Termini said.

The leadership at GHS is looking for new ways to fight vaping on school grounds after last year’s policy of suspending students after first offenses failed to change behavior.

Former GHS Headmaster Chris Winters had initiated the policy of immediately suspending any student caught with a device. All the policy did, however, was pull teens from class, Termini said.

Administrators have seen a decrease in vaping at GHS this year, Interim Headmaster Richard Piotrzkowksi said in an email. Still, the school has not successfully stopped students from vaping, Termini said.

“Maybe we stopped them from doing it here, but they’re addicted,” she said.

Any e-cigarette that is confiscated at GHS is immediately tested for THC oil, Termini said. As for disciplining students, she said her leadership team is still unsure what it will look like this year, but there will be levels of intervention.

First, she calls in parents and sets up a meeting between each student and a counselor from Liberation Programs, a local nonprofit. Her team is still considering how to increase consequences and provide help for students who continue to vape.

GHS has presentations for parents and sent out an educational video, and Termini emphasized working with parents. She advises parents to check credit cards for online purchases and search their chilren’s rooms.

“Talk to your kid. Explain how bad it is, show them the articles,” she said. “Talk to us. Not to get the kids in trouble, but to get them help.”

Student vaping increases with age, according to recently released data the Prevention Council obtained from a survey conducted in February of Greenwich’s middle and high school students in public and independent schools.

Just under 2 percent of seventh-graders reported having used an e-cigarette in the 30 days preceding the survey, but that number grows to 4.6 percent by eighth grade. Vaping jumps when students enter high school: in the last 30 days, 13.2 percent of ninth-graders, 20 percent of sophomores, 24 percent of juniors and 36 percent of seniors reported smoking an e-cigarette.

For many students, vaping is an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Less than 1 percent of seventh-graders reported smoking a cigarette in the last month, and by 12th grade, only 6.4 percent of seniors reported smoking, the same survey found.

Many choose vaping because they think it is safer, but it is not, said nurse Diane DeMain, who runs an anti-smoking program at Greenwich Hospital and gives presentations in schools.

“They’ll say to me, a child or adult, ‘I’m only vaping,’ but one cartridge equals a pack of cigarettes,” DeMain said. “And if it has a nice flavor, they’re easily taking in that whole cartridge in a day.”

Last year, Greenwich High hosted a number of educational presentations on the dangers of vaping, but Termini said they do not seem to reach students. This year, the school has yet to do any outreach specific to vaping.

One GHS senior said the programming is ineffective. “We already know what we’re getting into,” he said.

Another senior vaped his freshman year but stopped. “I quit because it wasn’t doing anything for me,” he said. “I wasted a lot of money.”

Nicotine poisoning, which is more common among e-cigarette users, dissuaded another GHS senior from vaping, also known as Juuling. He said “pretty much everyone” Juuls, but he said he does not feel social pressure to join. It’s common for students who do not own e-cigarettes to ask for a hit from one who does.

“Some people are pretty generous,” he said.

Getting one is easy, he said. Students order them online or have 18-year-old friends buy for them. They are also sold at gas stations, which don’t always ask for identification, he said.

In the past six months, however, community members have not complained to police about local businesses supplying vaping material to underage teens, said Lt. John Slusarz, the Greenwich Police Department spokesman.

But the cloying smell of juice vapor motivated two Greenwich high students to help combat the epidemic with projects as part of their classwork in Andy Bramante’s honors science research class. They use devices confiscated by security guards in their research.

Sophomore Hannah Goldenberg demonstrated the presence of diacetyl — a chemical that causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and bronchiolitis obliterans — a condition that damages the smallest airways in the lung and causes coughing and shortness of breath. The condition is nicknamed “popcorn lung” because diacetyl is used to flavor popcorn.

She measured the diacetyl in vapor by making a pair of lungs with plastic containers and a 3-D printed set of bronchioles that “smoked” a Juul. Three hits contain 18 parts per million of diacetyl. In clinical studies, 100 parts per million of diacetyl was enough to cause those health problems, Goldenberg said.

“It’s only a couple days before you run into serious problems,” she said.

Current research does not touch on the amount of diacetyl in vaping devices, said Goldenberg, who is making a film with another student to release her findings.

Because many go to a bathroom in the GHS student center to vape, senior Jeremy Fertig is constructing a device that can be installed there to detect the chemicals in e-cigarettes and notify security via smartphone alerts.

Determining the chemicals that the body absorbs and those that go back into the air, and how to make the device sensitive enough to detect them, are a challenge, Fertig said.

Both students agreed that researching e-cigarettes has further dissuaded them from starting.

“The stuff in there is really gross,” Fertig said. “The more I look at it, the grosser it gets.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly