The head of the Food and Drug Administration has termed it an “epidemic”
(Fox, 2018). According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, 16.2% of high school seniors in the United States use
e-cigarettes, and incredibly, 9.5% of 8th graders use e-cigarettes.
Moreover, the same study shows that 30.7% of teens who “vape” (as smoking
e-cigarettes is commonly known) start smoking traditional cigarettes within 6
months of starting the use of e-cigarettes (National Institute on Drug Abuse,
Amazingly, the majority of teens seem to believe that inhaling a foreign substance has no negative impact on their health. In fact, the same study cited above notes that 66% of teens believe that e-cigarettes are comprised of “just flavoring,” and 13% “don’t know” what is in their vape. Another study showed that 6 in 10 students surveyed believed that vaping caused little or no harm to their health, as long as they are not using every day (Know the Risks, 2018). Of course, it IS true that there are no long-term trials on such a relatively new product. What we do know, however, is frightening enough. Almost all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is one of the most highly addictive chemicals on earth. Nicotine has been shown to be particularly damaging to the teenage brain
(Know the Risks, 2018). According to U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of the U.S Surgeon General,
and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Youth and young adults are also uniquely at risk for long-term, long-lasting effects of exposing their developing brains to nicotine. These risks include nicotine addiction, mood disorders, and permanent lowering of impulse control. Nicotine also changes the way synapses are formed, which can harm the parts of the brain that control attention and learning
Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016).
Additionally, there are any number of other pernicious compounds in e-cigarette mixtures. One study carried out by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at 51 different liquid flavors commonly sold in the United States and in 47 of them, they found three different chemicals (diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione) that are linked to serious respiratory disease (Allen et al., 2015). Besides nicotine and the chemicals mentioned above, “vape juice” has been shown to contain heavy metals (i.e., nickel, tin, and lead), organic compounds (such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust), and other ultra-fine particles that lodge in the users’ lungs.
Marketing and Sales
The e-cigarette industry denies that they are marketing their products to children and teens, yet colorful packaging and flavors such as “Bubble Pop,” “Strawberry Cotton Candy,” “Sour Gummy Worms,” and “Peanut Butter Cup” have an undeniable appeal to youth who might otherwise never consider using a tobacco product.
Frighteningly, one of the most popular e-cigarette delivery systems is “Juul.” A single Juul cartridge contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. The Juul apparatus, itself, is small, and to the casual observer, looks like a USB thumb drive. In fact, Juul is charged through a computer’s USB port. The Juul liquid can be odorless, and its use is often unnoticed by others.
I went online and found that I could acquire a Juul “starter kit” for $49.99, plus free shipping. My kit would include a Juul device, a USB charging dock, and four cartridges which come in “Virginia Tobacco, Mint, Crème, and Mango” flavors. All I needed was a credit card and to “verify” that I was 21. The official Juul website also has a handy-dandy map app where I can find the Juul retailer that is closest to my home. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but “Vape Shops” have become ubiquitous here in Dothan.
What H.A. is Doing
We are having a speaker, Dr. Michael Ramsey, come and hold a parent night on the issue. Our counselors and advisors are discussing vaping with our students. We already have surveillance cameras throughout the school, but we are currently investigating installing censors in our rest rooms. Recently, we limited student access to the parking lot during the day. Furthmore, you should know that we reserve to right to search our students, their cars, or their lockers if we have reasonable suspicion that he or she has e-cigarettes or other tobacco products in his or her possession. We trust you will understand that our sole goal is to keep your children safe. At the very least, we must ensure that we do not have drugs, alcohol, or tobacco on this campus.
What You Can Do As A Parent
Talk to your children about the dangers of vaping, but also, don’t be naïve. Realize that even the best kids succumb to peer pressure, and the adolescent brain is WIRED to take risks and act impulsively. If you believe your child would never lie to you, you are living in a fantasy world. I often joke that I know my own children are lying to me “because their lips are moving”! I think I have good kids, but I’ve been working with teens for thirty years, and I know with certainty that my children will lie to me – especially when the stakes are high.
In any case, if the research is correct (and I believe it is), and if the rumors are true, we already have a number of students in our community using e-cigarettes, and some are probably addicted. We can work to make this campus safe, but that doesn’t mean that our kids won’t vape once they leave this campus.
Search your children’s belongings, and help them understand, as children in our charge, there IS NO SUCH THING as a right to privacy. When my own offspring are gone and paying their own bills, they can have their privacy. For now, I will search their cell phones, their car, and their bedroom. If they don’t like me searching their phones and cars, I will take their phone and car away. If they don’t want me to search their bedrooms, I’ll take the hinges off their door. I will do this because I love them and I want them safe, and because I understand that good kids make bad decisions. I am not their friend, and I sure as heck don’t want them to think I am cool.
One of the beautiful things about living in Dothan and being at Houston Academy is that we are an incredibly close-knit community. Let’s talk about this epidemic, and let’s not get offended if someone tells us of rumors that our child might be vaping, drinking, or doing drugs. We are a family, and we can work together as a family to keep our children safe.
Fox, M. (2018, September 12). NBC News. Retrieved from NBC News.com: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/e-cigarette-use-epidemic-fda-chief-says-n908781
Joseph G. Allen , Skye S. Flanigan , Mallory LeBlanc , Jose Vallarino , Piers MacNaughton , James H. Stewart , and David C. Christiani . (2015, December 12). Flavoring Chemicals in E-Cigarettes: Diacetyl, 2,3-Pentanedione, and Acetoin in a Sample of 51 Products, Including Fruit-, Candy-, and Cocktail-Flavored E-Cigarettes. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124, 733-739.
Know the Risks, E-cigarettes & Young People. (2018). Retrieved October 2018, from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics-/trends-statistics/infographics/teens-e-cigarettes