Local prevention specialists Melinda Calianos from the Hampshire Franklin Tobacco-Free Community Partnership and Kat Allen from the Communities That Care Coalition hosted a presentation and Q&A at Turners Falls High School for those with questions and concerns about the newer forms of using nicotine.
Each year, a survey of local middle and high schools including Gill-Montague Regional School District is conducted to anonymously ask students about their health behaviors and conditions in their family, schools and community that put them at greater risk for unhealthy behaviors. Allen outlined the statistics for the parents and teachers in the room and Calianos compiled a presentation to inform the audience what vaping is.
What is vaping?Vaporizers (“vapes” or “vape pens”) and e-cigarettes came out to the mass market in 2007 as a tobacco-free alternative to smoking cigarettes. Usually, these devices consist of a “pen” or a “tank” that allows a cartridge of liquid (sometimes called “juice” or “e-liquid”) to be heated up so it can be vaporized and inhaled.
These devices are battery powered and rechargeable. Depending on the device, the user either presses a button and inhales, or simply inhales. The device’s heating element turns the liquid into an aerosol vapor that is inhaled into the lungs, then exhaled.
“This isn’t just disappearing into people’s lungs or the air, there’s an actual compound that’s being put into the body or the air,” Calianos said.
She also expressed concern that both vaporizer juice and the vaporizer devices are unregulated.
While the juices don’t contain as many harmful substances like the tar found in cigarettes, the base of the juice can contain propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin-based liquid, which when heated can contain cancer-causing compounds. Propylene glycol, also found in some prepackaged foods and toothpaste, is considered “safe” in small doses by the FDA, but is considered toxic in large amounts.
The CDC reports that while e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic substances than the approximately 7,000 found in regular cigarettes, the devices can still expose users to cancer-causing chemicals.
“It’s really important that kids know these things are harmful because they’re marketed as totally not harmful,” Allen said.
Calianos informed the audience of the different vaporizer pens, how they work, and what other potentially harmful nicotine or tobacco products teens are using.
One of the main concerns about vapes is that they’re sweet, cheap, and easy to get. Cigarillos and cigars are also of concern because they come in appealing flavors and can be bought individually. According to Allen, the vast array of flavors is the main reason youth use vapes.
Calianos pulled out a quarter-inch thick stack of papers and leafed through what looked like pages of spreadsheets. Every line on the pages contained a name of a different vape juice flavor or cigarillo flavor.
She also displayed pictures of enticing packaging for vape juice, including packaging made to look like a juice box, box of popcorn, and a jar of jam.
According to Calianos, teens who vape are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes.
What is Juuling?A Juul is one of the latest vaporizer devices and is shaped like a USB so that it is not easily detected. “Juuling” is the same as vaping, but refers to this specific brand of vaporizer. The concern with Juul vaporizers is that they are easy to make discreet and smoke during class.
Vapor is delivered to a Juul user by a “Juul pod” which contains 5 percent nicotine by weight. One “pod” contains approximately 200 puffs, equivalent to a pack of cigarettes.
A Juul “starter kit” typically costs $50.
“Although these are expensive, we know students are saving up cash,” Calianos said. “They’re buying Amazon gift cards and buying them on Amazon.”
StatisticsLast year’s survey of local eighth-, tenth-, and 12th-graders reported that only 13 percent of high school seniors have used cigarettes in the past 30 days, down from 23 percent in 2003. Six percent of 10th-graders reported to be current smokers, and two percent of eighth-graders reported being a current smoker.
Also in 2017, 50 percent of twelfth-graders reported trying vaping at least once, but only 12 percent reported vaping regularly.
Only 4 percent reported using chewing tobacco and 10 percent used “other” tobacco products. Marijuana use declined from 29 percent of high schoolers using it in 2003 to 19 percent using it in 2017.
Overall, 81 percent of local students reported that they don’t use tobacco or vapor products.
“Most students are not vaping or using tobacco products,” reiterated Allen, explaining that it’s important for parents to inform their children that not everyone is doing it, limiting the effects of peer pressure-influenced decisions.
She also mentioned that young people’s brains are still developing, making them more susceptible to addiction and harmful effects of nicotine products.
“The longer you can delay the first use is a really positive thing,” Allen said.
Parenting practicesAccording to Allen, the decline of teens using nicotine and tobacco products is thanks to evolving parenting practices.
More kids have reported that their parents voice their disapproval about them smoking, drinking, and other deviant behaviors. They also say they feel they have a voice in family decisions, and nine out of ten teens surveyed said they enjoy spending time with one or both parents.
Local data also confirms that parents are one of the most important influences in a child’s decision to not drink or smoke. Allen encouraged parents to talk to their kids about alcohol and drugs, especially when many teens will say “it’s just vaping, it’s fine.”
“They hear you,” she said.
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