Task Force hears troubling news on teen vaping

By on December 19, 2019

(ISTOCK)

More than five million young people across the country are currently using e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey released by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And as of Dec. 10, there are 52 people in the United States who have died from vaping while 2,409 have been hospitalized with complications related to using the products.

“Everyone knows right now that vaping is an epidemic and the CDC has said so,” asserted Chris Fletcher at the Dec. 17 meeting of the Saving Lives Task Force. That five-year-old organization, originally known as the Substance Abuse Education and Prevention Task Force, has as its goals working to prevent substance use disorders and providing effective treatment for those who need it. And the Saving Lives Task Force has clearly made vaping an area of focus and concern.

Fletcher, a public health education specialist with the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services, briefed the task force on the “Escape the Vape” parent/child forums to be hosted this coming February by the county health department, Albemarle Regional Health Services and the task force.

During the meeting, Fletcher also voiced serious concerns about the problem, sharing recent news on new products being marketed to target young people – from vape devices that mimic pens and USB flash drives to attractively-designed skins for e-cigarette products and “vape hoodies” that feature vapor delivery systems through their drawstrings.

She noted that according to the CDC survey, e-cigarette use by the nation’s high school students is at 27.5%, with 10.5% of the country’s middle schoolers taking up vaping. In North Carolina, as of Dec. 12, there have 74 cases of lung injury reported due to e-cigarette, or vaping product use, according to the N.C. Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch.

Fletcher described to the task force a growing practice among vaping teens, something called vape “hotboxing,” in which users in an enclosed area such as a car take as many “hits” as they can off of Juul pods, each of which can contain as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

The task force group also discussed the dangerous chemicals released into the body from vaping, such as formaldehyde, chromium and nicotine as well as other unknown chemicals. They listened to a clip featuring Luka Kinard, a High Point, N.C. 16-year-old who shared his story of becoming addicted to vaping, the spiral that ensued and his road to recovery. Kinard will be a guest speaker during the February “Escape the Vape” forums.

The forums will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 4 at Cape Hatteras Secondary, at First Flight Middle School on Feb. 5, and at Manteo Middle School on Feb.  6. Parents and students are encouraged to attend.

The Dare County Health Department’s Health Education and Outreach Supervisor Rebecca Woods recommended that parents and children attend the forums together. “We know scare tactics don’t work, it’s been proven over and over again,” she said. “But if we can even just get the message out to parents and educate parents a little bit more – and they are having that conversation – that’s a step in the right direction.”

Fletcher told the group that a cessation program is underway at Hatteras Secondary School twice a week during the school’s enrichment period. “Right now, we don’t really have a lot of students,” she stated. “I still think it’s in the baby phase and [students] are still trying to figure out if they’re going to get in trouble or not [by participating in the program]. They’re not.”

Fletcher said she is hoping participation will pick up after Kinard’s visit. “We really want to open up this conversation with parents and students. Maybe we’ll reach that one kid who wants to stop but doesn’t know how. Addiction is addiction. It doesn’t matter what you’re addicted to, it’s difficult to stop and you need some help doing it.”

Sheli Sims, Manteo High School’s school nurse, said that she’s seen firsthand students who have become addicted to vaping. “And when they don’t have it, they’ll go to the bathroom and smoke with their friends,” Sims added. It’s constant…they’re addicted.”

Sims also touched on the practice of students reselling Juul cartridges for profit. She noted that they’ll purchase 10 or 12 packs of the e-cigarette juice and resell at a higher price to younger students. The Juuls run about 99 cents, but the cartridges, she said, are between $13 and $19 and are being re-sold for $20 to $25.

“It’s like selling pot to kids,” Sims asserted. “They make money on the turnaround, it’s better than having a job.”

Fletcher also explained that the students are well aware of what stores sell to underage customers. “There are many stores down here, they are telling us,” she asserted. When word gets around, Fletcher added, more students go to those stores to purchase the cartridges.


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