As high school and college students return to class, parents need to talk to their children about the health hazards of vaping, an increasingly popular form of nicotine consumption using e-cigarettes and other devices.
Statistics show vaping increased in parallel with a decrease in smoking. The increase in vaping numbers is not due entirely to smokers trying to quit but points to new nicotine users among teens.
To help combat this epidemic in Ohio, on July 18, Gov. Mike DeWine signed the state’s budget, immediately raising the age limit for the purchase of tobacco and vaping devices to 21 from 18. DeWine vetoed a line item that would grandfather individuals aged 18-20 prior to Oct. 1. Federal legislation has been proposed that would add an online sales tax.
Last year the Centers for Disease Control estimated “3.6 million U.S. middle school and high school students used e-cigarettes,” a demographic representing “4.9 percent of all middle school students and 20.8 percent of all high school students.” By February 2019, the CDC reported that figure rose by more than 1 million students to 4.9 million, with the fastest-growing demographic being middle school students — roughly 7.2 percent of middle school and 27.1 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes or vaping products in the last 30 days.
Health effects of vaping
While many people believe they are only breathing in water vapor, nicotine and flavor, according to the American Lung Association in January 2018, “the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies. That report made clear: using e-cigarettes causes health risks. It concluded that e-cigarettes both contain and emit a number of potentially toxic substances.”
The ALA specifies that these include “acetaldehyde, acrolein and formaldehyde. These aldehydes can cause lung disease, as well as cardiovascular disease. E-cigarettes also contain acrolein, a herbicide primarily used to kill weeds. It can cause acute lung injury and COPD and may cause asthma and lung cancer.”
The nicotine addiction alone can be quite serious, and many of the e-cigarettes have higher concentrations of nicotine than cigarettes.
One Columbus mother is suing JUUL Labs because, according to her attorneys, “her twin daughters began JUULing at 14 years of age and became severely addicted to nicotine,” resulting in “strong mood swings, bouts of anger and aggression, discipline problems, and a decline in academic performance” and “one of her daughters even attempted suicide due to nicotine withdrawals.”
The method of using liquids for vaping is similar to that of how tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in cannabis oil can be inhaled, and some of the vaping liquids are suspected to contain it, necessitating medical treatment or hospitalization.
By Aug. 27, 2019, the CDC reported 215 potential cases across 25 states. Six cases were in Ohio.
Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D. at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education advised parents and students need to be aware that e-cigarettes are “a gateway drug for marijuana.” Stanton cited a 2018 study published in Pediatrics which found “any e-cigarette use at baseline about doubles the odds of using marijuana a year later.” One UCSF clinical trial currently underway cited a 2015 study published in Pediatrics that showed “high rates of cannabis vaping among high school students (18.0% among e-cigarette users).”
Teens vaping in school
Disguised as USB devices, e-cigarettes are finding their way into schools.
“It’s almost a moving target. You try to stay on top of the latest trends, but whenever you turn around there’s a new change,” Dave Dilbone, principal of Troy High School, said.
He learned students in another state were using their teacher’s computer to charge their devices, finding it funny that the teacher was none the wiser. He has shared video clips and information with staff to try to combat the issue — as well as bringing in speakers to reach the students directly on the topic of addiction.
For additional advice to help counteract the vaping trend among youth, Dilbone relies on the Miami County Recovery Council and the Tri-County Board of Mental Health. He’s exploring class components that would be required for those under suspension for vaping. This can end a student’s athletic career in that district. Parents and students alike should be familiar with their school’s policies.
In reaction to the change in Ohio law, Dilbone says, it’s “a huge win for us as a school.” Once students receive a clear message — that it is not legal to sell to anyone under 21, that the school will not tolerate it, and that there are various in-school and athletic consequences — some students may actively report violators to trusted teachers, school counselors or administrators.
Addiction prevention, however, is just as important at home as it is in school.
“Look for changes in behavior,” Dilbone said. Above all, talk to your kids. Make sure that they know you care for them. Make sure they know that home is a safe place and try to have some of these conversations before it becomes a problem. What we’ve seen, and what the experts tend to tell us, is that it’s much more difficult [to overcome] once it becomes a problem if you haven’t started that conversation days, weeks, or years ahead of time.”
Denny Morrison, principal at Sidney High School, says Sidney’s policies are similar.
“I’m more concerned about the long-term damage that they are doing. The seriousness of e-cigarettes and vaping are just now being discovered. Right now, the vaping companies are certainly trying to attract young people. We want to focus on educating young people about the possible dangers so that we can do everything we can from a preventative standpoint. We want them to be successful. We want them to be safe. So, it is best to work with them as early as possible.”
Picking up the pieces
Joy Higgins, prevention coordinator with the Miami County Recovery Council, said the fallout can be serious.
“We had a kid punch a wall in a school because he was trying to quit cold turkey,” she said. “When tobacco and e-cigarette companies hook people early, they have them for a lifetime.”
Bob Alexander, an Ohio certified prevention specialist at MCRC, emphasized he is “really concerned” because nicotine withdrawal symptoms begin soon after the last use.
“My big fear, along with the educators and the school systems, is that they’re going to have students who are addicted to nicotine experiencing withdrawal symptoms during the school day. … What do we do with our youth who are addicted to nicotine? Because the levels of nicotine are higher, the experiences from withdrawal are even greater.”