Vaping raises educators' concerns about teen addiction, health risks
- A new U.S. Center for Disease Control study revealed that tobacco use in teens dropped from 24% in 2011 to 20% in 2016 and 2017, NBC News reports, and e-cigarettes — aka vapes or juuls — have been the most popular tobacco product among middle and high school kids since 2014.
- The marketing of these tobacco products, often fruit- or candy-flavored and in trendy packaging, holds high appeal to teens. Despite their relatively innocuous appearance, usually passing for thumb drives or pens, these products deliver a potent blast of nicotine, which can "rewire" young brains to be more susceptible to addiction later in life.
- The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids expressed concern that 20% may be lower than reality, as the survey did not specifically mention the brand name teens recognize, Juul. It's speculated that some teens who took the survey may not have associated the product with the questions asked.
E-cigarettes, battery-operated devices that heat fluid laced with nicotine and flavoring into a haze, need to be further studied to determine their long-term effects. Vaping, as e-cigarette use is called, delivers fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes, though not none. It's largely agreed upon by experts that when long-time, adult heavy smokers switch exclusively to vaping, they reduce some health risks. But it's a different story when a non-smoking teen picks up the vaping habit. Nicotine is addictive any way it's delivered, and e-cigs can be a stepping stone to burned tobacco products. Due to the dearth of long-term studies, it's unknown exactly how vaping affects heart health, cancer risk or pregnancy outcomes.
A popular brand of e-cigarette is Juul, and the products have become a nightmare for many school administrators. It looks like a flash drive and even charges on a laptop, so it's inconspicuous and is small enough to fit in the palm of a student's hand. The vapor cloud it emits is much more contained and dissipates more quickly than a regular cigarette. It also has a light, sweet scent — one a teacher could easily think comes from a toiletry product.
Yet looks are deceiving. One Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to the company's website. The pricey product — a starter kit runs $50 — seems to be most prevalent in high schools in wealthier districts. Administrators have been challenged in eradicating e-cigs from campuses, especially Juuls, as they're so discreet kids can even use them in class without drawing attention. Some schools have resorted to removing entry doors to student restrooms, shutting them down altogether, or installing staff to monitor which and how many kids go in and out. Others have banned real flash drives so that it's harder for a Juul to go unnoticed. But the battle is still largely a losing one in many schools.
Juul has produced a school curriculum to combat underage use of its products. It includes mindfulness exercises that, in theory, might reduce the student stress that could be causing them to vape.
Schools officials are reaching out to parents, urging them to be on the lookout for pens that look a little odd and wafts of sweet scents. Principals across the country are routinely suspending repeat offenders. But some schools are finding required counseling or substance abuse treatment a better alternative than punishment.
A handful of companies have also started selling vaping detectors, which The New York Times reports schools, including a high school in Chicago, are considering installing. Cost versus the uncertainty of the effectiveness of the new devices are still being weighed.