One of the fastest growing threats against middle schoolers and teenagers is known by many different names. Smoke juice, Pods, E-Liquid, PV, E-cigs, Vapes, or Juuls are just some of the street names used to describe Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS, which most commonly are referred to as e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that can deliver nicotine to users when they inhale the aerosol, or “vapor,” that is generated by the heated liquid inside.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the number of middle and high school students vaping regularly rose by 1.5 million just in 2018 — roughly a 77 percent surge.
“Vaping among young people is a huge problem,” said Paul Lucas, principal of Orange High School in Orange Village. “In my conversations with other district principals, I’ve learned that it’s a problem we are all battling.”
According to the CDC data, 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students currently use e-cigarettes.
The popular vaping devices, such as Juul, appear to attract young people. They are sleek, attractive and look just like a USB flash drive. Juul also comes in fruity flavors, such as mango, cucumber, fruit and crème.
Some say that it’s the high tech looks and flavors that enable kids to vape surreptitiously. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a Stanford professor and developmental psychologist who researches adolescent behavior around tobacco products, agrees.
“Parents should become aware of what these devices look like so they can detect them,” she says. “Parents should look for little plastic things in their kids’ backpacks and rooms. Also, the odor doesn’t travel like it does with conventional cigarettes, but if your kid’s room never smelled nice before and now it smells like candy, blueberries, or really fruity, then your son or daughter may be using these products.”
Dr. John Carl, a pediatric pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, said the sweet smelling, flashy devices are a very effective way of delivering a highly addictive substance to our youth.
“The amount of nicotine in a Juul is nearly that of a pack of cigarettes,” Carl says. “Nicotine is highly addictive and a very adverse substance. Some of the effects of nicotine include increasing the heart rate, increasing the likelihood of forming blood clots, altering formation of blood vessels to the brain and contributing to cardiovascular disease. For young girls entering into childbearing years, nicotine reduces estrogen circulation levels and can affect reproduction.”
Dr. Crystal Cole, an adolescent medicine physician at Akron Children’s Hospital, emphasizes that no one fully understands the full consequences of vaping. She said while research outlines the ways nicotine negatively affects a young person’s development, there is very little research around the impact of the other chemicals contained in e-cigarettes.
Meanwhile, society is challenged by kids vaping at epidemic levels. Many kids think it’s nicotine-free and underestimate the health risks.
“As pediatricians, we generally speak to a lot of kids alone,” Cole says. “In their minds, the idea of vaping is not the same as cigarette smoking. A lot of children that would never think about smoking a cigarette would be open to trying vaping or vape on a regular basis.”
According to Cole, physicians have seen a dramatic decrease in adult patients using cigarettes but are actually seeing kids pick up the habit. The CDC website reports that young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. This has been corroborated by various researched reports, including a three-year study of more than 2,000 teens and young adults conducted just last year by The Rand Corp., a nonprofit research group. The study found that 17-year-olds who use e-cigarettes are more likely to use both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes by the age of 19.
Breaking the Habit
Getting kids off of vaping is serious business, as recovery is difficult for any addicted person. Nicotine replacement therapy along with cognitive behavioral therapy are two techniques commonly coupled to wean adults from nicotine. Nicotine replacement therapy is a medically-approved way to take nicotine by means other than tobacco. It can come in the form of gum, patches, sprays and inhalers; however, the FDA does not approve using nicotine therapy for anyone under the age of 18.
“We don’t have very good data for helping youth (who are) addicted to vaping products,” Halpern-Felsher says. “We don’t have very good information or very good tools for them. There are a lot of educators using education as a way of prevention. ”
Akron Public Schools is among many school districts actively partnering with community resources to work on a prevention level.
“We have school resource officers in the building being very observant and other community resource agencies informing kids on why vaping is a bad choice,” said Daniel Rambler, director of student support services and security at Akron Public Schools. “Vaping is a violation of the student code of conduct. If there is an issue, there is a consequence, but with that there is a re-teaching of the dangers of vaping. We try to link violators with community resources to get them help.”
Orange High School, in addition to other services, offers peer-to-peer support to help students quit vaping. Students who have struggled with overcoming vaping addictions work to assist others in kicking the habit.
“I wouldn’t say that anybody is in front of this teen vaping epidemic,” Lucas says. “If we were in front of this challenge, we wouldn’t be dealing with it. We are trying to be as ahead and proactive as we can. We are all trying to figure out the best way to help our kids. Our best defense is having kids involved.”