It was only a year ago when Adrianna Rivera, now 14 years old, was addicted to nicotine.
Her friends warned her about it, but she didn’t listen. After all, she wasn’t smoking cigarettes. She was inhaling flavored water vapor through a vape pen.
The sleek design and assortment of flavors — from Swedish candy to cinnamon toast cereal — got Adrianna hooked. She vaped daily, paying less than $30 on eBay for new vape kits when her flavoring liquid, or vape juice, ran out. All the 13-year-old had to do was check a box asking if she was 18 or older.
Her addiction — which to her seemed more like a hobby — eventually caught up with her, as she felt her asthma worsen with each puff. So she quit a few months after she started using the products. Now, the Pequea Valley Intermediate School student wants to help others do the same by sharing her story and spreading awareness.
“I’m just glad I’m out of it now,” she said, “because I know how bad it is and I just want to help others because I know how hard it is to not get into.”
Vape pen and e-cigarette use has become a thorn in the side of not only students trying to avoid them, but school administrators and local health officials trying to curtail student use. Vaping devices can be easily disguised as a pen or even a USB.
According to the 2015 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, nearly 14 percent of 10,000 Lancaster County middle and high school students had vaped within the previous 30 days. Twenty percent of students within that group did not know the substance they were inhaling.
Nearly one in four high school seniors in Pennsylvania reported having used an e-cigarette within 30 days. That’s 10 percent higher than the national average.
One potential benefit of the recent surge in e-cigarette use may be the decline in students smoking traditional cigarettes.
In the same 2015 survey, only 5 percent of students reported smoking cigarettes within the previous 30 days, which was down from 6.4 percent in 2013.
Program at Pequea Valley
Dr. Loren Robinson, deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention in the state Department of Health, visited Pequea Valley Intermediate School on Thursday to talk about the potential dangers of what the department officially calls Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS.
“E-cigarettes have become more popular over the last few years, but the reality is that they are not safe,” Robinson said. “Smoking e-cigarettes delivers cancer-causing chemicals to the body, and the flavoring used by many teens in these devices appears to be the most dangerous.”
Adrianna and two of her classmates, Xavier Padilla and Natalie Hesler, participated in the panel discussion with Robinson. More than 100 students attended.
Adrianna, Xavier and Natalie also visited the Capitol last week to promote raising the minimum age to buy nicotine products from 18 to 21.
Thursday’s event at Pequea Valley was held in partnership with a local anti-vaping initiative.
Mary McNelis LeVasseur, manager of community health and wellness for Lancaster General Health and Penn Medicine, started a vaping awareness campaign in 2016 called “It’s Not Just Water.” LeVasseur travels to schools throughout the county to caution middle and high school students about vaping.
The campaign’s website compares vaping to other products that were once thought safe, including cigarettes, lead paint and opiates.
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