An alarming trend in area schools has officials concerned and taking action to educate students on why they shouldn’t vape, Juul or use any other type of electronic cigarette.
Vaping devices, some of which resemble pens or flash drives for computers, are being confiscated from students as young as middle-school aged, said Alicia McCrary, a guidance counselor at Brownstown Central Middle School.
She said the school wants to address the problem now before it gets out of hand.
“Our dean found a few students with vaping devices, and we were hearing more about it from our students, so we decided we needed to be proactive and educate them about the harm it can cause,” McCrary said.
From a preventive and disciplinary standpoint, vaping devices and e-cigarettes present a challenge to staff and parents, McCrary said.
Because the devices can resemble pens or USB drives and the vapor dissipates quicker than cigarette smoke, they are more difficult for adults to detect, she said.
To better educate herself, McCrary began to research the topic and contacted Schneck Medical Center in Seymour for information. The hospital offered to send someone to talk to students and answer questions about vaping and e-cigarettes.
“We want them to make informed decisions to know it’s not something they have to do,” McCrary said. “It’s not cool or harmless. The things they put into their body now could affect them for the rest of their lives.”
Jamie Parker and Jalen Brown, registered respiratory therapists at Schneck, spent Monday and Tuesday at Brownstown Central Middle School talking with seventh- and eighth-grade classes about vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes.
One of the biggest problems is kids think vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes, Parker said.
“That’s not true at all,” he said.
Vape juices or e-liquids are not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and many of them are imported from China, Parker said.
This fact alone should dissuade people from vaping, they said.
“You have no way of knowing what’s in there,” Brown said. “Everyone thinks it’s just water and nicotine, maybe a little flavoring, but lots of harmful things have been found in vaping liquid.”
Metals such as silver, nickel, lead, chromium, titanium, iron and more have been found in some e-liquids.
Found among other samples were harmful elements such as arsenic, a element poisonous to humans; acetone, a compound used to strip paint from vehicles; formaldehyde, a compound used in embalming; and benzene, a natural component produced from crude oil.
“It’s not regulated by the FDA, meaning you don’t know what’s in there and in what amounts,” Brown said. “It’s possible you could end up with lead poisoning, nickel poisoning or even symptoms of arsenic poisoning.”
At this point, because the trend of using e-liquids and vape juice is fairly new, there just isn’t enough data to make people think about the consequences, Brown said.
“We don’t know what conditions this could cause in the long term,” he said. “There might be things other than cancer you have to worry about.”
Some carcinogens or cancer-causing components are still present in some e-liquids, he said.
This is in addition to what is known to be in every e-liquid, including propylene glycol, which is an agent used to keep it from drying out and nicotine.
Nicotine is an extremely addicting chemical, possibly more addicting than cocaine, Parker said.
The amount can be different depending on the type of e-cigarette being used. Parker said Juul, which is one of the most popular brands on the market, contains the equivalent of 20 cigarettes.
“Many times, a bottle of e-liquid can contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes,” Parker said. “That means kids, who might like the flavor and puff, puff, puff and go through the entire container, are taking in 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine.”
This sudden increase in nicotine can lead to nicotine poisoning, a potentially fatal condition, he said.
Both Parker and Brown said vaping and e-cigarettes are being marketed to appeal to a younger generation.
“(Manufacturers and distributors) want to get a new group of customers,” Parker said. “We saw it in the past with cigarettes when they started banning specific ads and methods of focusing on younger buyers.”
Vaping and e-cigarettes are marketed in colorful containers and appealing flavors and are displayed at locations where teens and younger groups can see them, such as in mall kiosks.
“They make them in flavors that appeal to you guys, like they are candy — cotton candy, sour apple — flavors like that,” Parker told students.
The FDA is planning to ban sales of most flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores and gas stations around the country in an effort to reduce the popularity of vaping among young people, according to reports in The New York Times.
The agency also plans to require age-verification measures for online sales to try to ensure minors are not able to buy the flavor pods.
Those actions are expected to be announced as early as next week, according to The Wall Street Journal.