CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — They’re doing it in school bathrooms. In locker rooms. In hallways and on school grounds. The most brazen of the students? They’re doing it right inside classrooms.
They’re vaping — inhaling vapor from electronic cigarettes that often contain the highly addictive nicotine, lured by devices that are easy to hide from adults and by flavors such as mango, crème brûlée, mint and nectar.
The most recent data show that 3 million school-age children — including more than 600,000 middle school students — have tried vaping. Many are concerned that it could be a gateway to stronger substances, such as regular cigarettes or marijuana.
For many teens, it has become the latest way to look and feel cool. Go to YouTube and you’ll find plenty of videos of teens talking about vaping, about being suspended for vaping, or providing lessons on doing vape tricks — such as making O’s with the vapor. It’s now the most commonly used tobacco product among young people.
Parents, often, are in the dark — fooled in part by devices that look like everyday items such as flash drives and pens. Many have never even heard of vaping — or JUULing, as it’s commonly known among teens.
“It’s a pretty big problem,” said John Sobah, 16, a junior at Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township and a member of a teen council that works to educate students about the dangers of vaping and other substance abuse. “I’ve seen a lot of people vaping. … It happens at every school.”
It’s increasingly becoming a nemesis of school administrators, who are beefing up policies and treating students who get caught vaping the same they would students who are caught with regular cigarettes. Many are bringing in outside experts to educate students and parents, while others are creating their own prevention programs. In some districts nationwide, school officials have removed doors from bathroom stalls to deter students from vaping.
And it’s troubling experts who worry about the health effects of the products on the growing brains of teens.
There’s already data showing that in addition to using the devices to vape nicotine, youth are using them to vape marijuana.
The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently declared vaping use among youths an epidemic, threatened to crack down on companies that target their products at young people and launched a campaign to curb use among youths. The U.S. Surgeon General in a 2016 report said it is a major public health concern.
Cheryl Phillips has been teaching Vaping 101 classes to students and parents at schools across the region since January. At sessions with parents, she pulls out vaping devices so adults can become familiar.
“Over and over, we heard that the first time a parent heard about (vaping) was when they got a call from school that their student was being suspended because they were found with paraphernalia,” said Phillips, who teaches the classes through her job as coordinator of the Health Exploration Station at St. Joseph Mercy Canton Health Center.
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