Officials concerned about teen use of e-cigarettes

Posted 1/27/19

JASPER – Local officials are beginning to express concerns about the use of vaping by teens and how it may be undermining their health, echoing the concerns of officials across the state and the …

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Officials concerned about teen use of e-cigarettes


JASPER – Local officials are beginning to express concerns about the use of vaping by teens and how it may be undermining their health, echoing the concerns of officials across the state and the nation. 

Steve Rowe, safety coordinator for Walker County Schools, said that if you ask the high school principals and assistant principals in the county, they would agree that it is one of the bigger issues in the schools. The administrative review team is seriously considering asking the board of education to reclassify those vaping devices as drug paraphernalia, according to Rowe.

“I don’t think we are at the epidemic stage, but we need to figure out what we can do to get those off of our campuses, beyond the policy that is in place,” Rowe said. “We want to make it more of a deterrent,” he said. “It’s just a bad habit for kids to get in to,” he said.

According to the Decatur Daily, the Decatur City Council voted on Jan. 22 to ban the smoking of electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, in public places such as restaurants and bars. The change is effective immediately. 

Decatur joins a list of other cities that have banned vaping and e-cigarettes in public places.

In December, the National Institute of Health published a disturbing report on teenage vaping. The reported use of vaping nicotine specifically in the 30 days prior to the survey nearly doubled among high school seniors, from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018. Use among eighth- and 10th-graders were up as well. Local educators are also seeing an increase in Walker County.

The NIH study revealed that more than one in 10 eighth-graders (10.9 percent) say they vaped nicotine in the past year, and use is up significantly in virtually all vaping measures among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams took  aim last month at the best-selling electronic cigarette brand in the U.S., urging swift action to prevent Juul and similar vaping brands from addicting millions of teenagers.

In an advisory,  Adams said parents, teachers, health professionals and government officials must take “aggressive steps” to keep children from using e-cigarettes. Federal law bars the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18.

For young people, “nicotine is dangerous and it can have negative health effects,” Adams said. “It can impact learning, attention and memory, and it can prime the youth brain for addiction.”

Federal and health officials are worried the explosion in teen vaping could undermine decades of declines in tobacco use. The AP reported an estimated 3.6 million U.S. teens are now using e-cigarettes, representing one in five high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers, according to the latest federal figures. Survey results released last month showed twice as many high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018 compared to 2017.

E-cigarettes and other vaping devices have been sold in the U.S. since 2007, growing into a $6.6 billion business, the AP said. 

What is vaping?

Vaping is a smokeless method of inhaling vapor produced by an electronic cigarette or vaping device. The device/containers that people use to vape are called mods, and they range in price from around $45 to few hundred dollars, according to Karla Albertus of the Vapors for You store in Sumiton. The components of vaping are a mod which contains a small battery, a coil to heat the juice, and flavored juice which can contain nicotine.  

Vaping devices that many teens prefer are called Juul (pronounced "jewel") pods. Adams singled out Silicon Valley startup Juul in his remarks, according to the AP last month. The company leapfrogged over its larger competitors with online promotions portraying their small device as the latest high-tech gadget for hip, attractive young people. Analysts now estimate the company controls more than 75 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

Juuling devices have basically the same components of the larger mods, but the smaller devices are popular because they are easier to conceal, according to Albertus.

“People are down on vaping because there are kids vaping. I don’t promote kids vaping, but if they are doing zero nicotine, and it’s just the VG (Vegetable Glycerin) and PG (Propylene Glycol), that’s not going to hurt them any more than feeding them a can of Campbell’s soup,” she said. 

“We’ve had thousands (of adults) that have come in here since we opened five years ago that told us they got off of cigarettes by vaping,” she said.

A published report on website entitled Five Truths You Need to Know About Vaping says that e-cigarettes heat nicotine (extracted from tobacco), flavorings and other chemicals to create a water vapor that you inhale. Regular tobacco cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic.

While we don’t know exactly what chemicals are in e-cigarettes, Dr. Michael Joseph Blaha says “there’s almost no doubt that they expose you to fewer toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes.”  

Teenage vaping

The Daily Mountain Eagle reached out to Dora High School graduate Cathy Wingo Monroe, who is the medical director of the Emergency Department at Children’s of Alabama. Wingo contacted a colleague to help answer some basic questions about teenage vaping. Dr. Susan Walley, professor of the Pediatrics Division of Hospital Medicine for the University of Alabama at Birmingham/Children’s of Alabama, enlisted the help of Abigail Duemler, who is the project coordinator for the Youth Tobacco Prevention (YTP) Birmingham, which is funded through the Alabama Department of Public Health to weigh in on the topic of teenage vaping.

According to Walley, e-cigarettes and vaping are a problem for teens for a number of reasons. E-cigarette use can lead to nicotine addiction and a lifelong dependence on tobacco products. They also have ingredients that scientists and doctors know are harmful to health. Also, E-cigarette use has been shown to increase the risk of using conventional cigarettes, marijuana, and other drugs of abuse.

“The brains of middle and high schoolers are still developing, and exposure to nicotine at this age can result in a faster onset of addiction, and also an addiction that is harder to quit,” Walley said.

Some teens are not aware that their vape juice contains nicotine. This makes products such as Juul, which contains a pack of cigarettes worth of nicotine in a single pod, even more concerning, according to Walley.

E-cigarettes make an aerosol that contains toxicants (including carcinogens, volatile organic chemicals, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines) and particulate matter. Health effects of inhaling the aerosol that vapes produce include increased short-term heart rate and blood pressure and increased coughing, wheezing, and asthma attacks. Some of the chemicals known to be produced by vapes have been linked to lung disease, heart disease, and cancer, according to Walley. 

She also pointed out that young people who vape often become dual-users; they are at higher risk — almost four times higher risk — for smoking conventional cigarettes than their peers, and may become addicted to both products. This means that those who vape risk increasing their exposure to even more toxic chemicals in the long run. Even if teens are aware, they may not be aware of the long-term consequences of vaping, or what to do to combat their addiction.

Red flags have gone up in the minds of local school officials, and they agree they are seeing an increase in use.

“I would have to say yes, because in a couple of our searches we have recovered vaping devices,” Dora High School Principal Paige Abner said. They have also recovered the flavored nicotine.

“We’re treating it like tobacco,” she said. “The kids want to argue that it’s not the same, but in my view, it is the same,” she said.

Sumiton Christian School (SCS) Principal Cheryl Capps said, “We have had one student this year who was caught with a JUUL on campus, which we considered a Class III offense. Board policy was followed concerning his punishment.” According to the SCS policy, punishment could include expulsion under certain circumstances.

Daphne Hobby, soccer coach at Jasper High School, said she has not seen vaping personally, but she knows that discipline-wise the school has seen an increase in students being disciplined for vaping.

“Most of these products contain nicotine, and you’re supposed to be 19 to use them,” Hobby said.  Beyond school rules, it’s illegal for students that are not 19 to have any tobacco or nicotine products, according to Hobby.

Last season was the first time they’ve seen activity on their soccer team. “As far as I know there were no girls doing it, at least on school property,” she said. “We did have to talk with a couple of the boys,” she said.

 “Anytime you put a foreign substance into your body there is going to be effects,” she said.

Points that Hobby tries to make with student athletes is that if you are under 19, it’s illegal, and if you are an athlete, you don’t need to be putting foreign substances into your body.

She believes that one of the reasons for the uptick is availability, especially online availability.

Dr. Joel Hagood, superintendent of education for the Walker County Board of Education, said that all the new information coming out on teen vaping led the board to update its policy on vaping. 

Discussions with county principals revealed that the things they are seeing most are the Juuls  that are used to vape, according to Hagood. The Juuls look like a jump drive (computer USB drive) which makes them harder to detect unless you smell them, according to Hagood. 

Law enforcement in the area is also seeing a difference.

“I would have to say that the department is seeing more teen vaping,” said Jasper Police Chief J.C. Poe.

If an officer saw an underage teen that was vaping, they could issue a citation, and call the youth’s parents, according to Poe.

Poe went on to say that not only are they keeping an eye on underage vaping, but they also on the lookout for convenience stores and other businesses selling tobacco to minors.

Alabama State law (Section 28-11-13) prohibits youths under the age of 19 from purchasing, using possessing, or transporting tobacco or alternative nicotine products which would include vaping products. 

It’s also unlawful for a minor to use a fake ID to buy these products as well. If a minor is cited by law enforcement, the law requires the officer to notify the parent or legal guardian.

Steve Marino, who is the co-owner of Vapors for You in Sumiton, said that teens try to buy vaping products with fake IDs all the time. 

Addressing the issue

According to Walley and Duemler, parents, counselors, and coaches need to set a clear example by being tobacco-free themselves. They need to be informed about the risks of e-cigarette use and be able to have conversations with youth on the topic of vaping. Prevention to keep teens from starting any tobacco use, including e-cigarettes, is the key, they said.

When talking to potential current users, however, simply making demands will not help. Youth who vape are physically addicted, so just taking away the device and setting rules is not enough to combat what the withdrawal symptoms will entail. Conversations about the dangers of vaping to health need to also include a willingness to help those who are current users to quit, according to Walley.

What concerns Rowe is that in the vaping cases he has dealt with, the parents seemed indifferent to it.

“It’s like they’d rather their kids be vaping that doing something more harmful, but this is a gateway to those other things in my opinion,” he said. “We need to get those things out of our schools because the kids are making some poor decisions,” Rowe said.