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Vaping: The new specter in the classroom

Teachers used to worry about finding kids smoking in the bathroom. Now, it’s not just the bathrooms, but the hallways and even classrooms where students have been caught smoking — thanks to vapes, or e-cigarettes.

It’s not just teens experimenting, either. Experts say a surprising number of middle schoolers admit they’ve tried “e-cigs” and vaping.

E-cigarettes are easy to hide because they can be as small as a flash drive and look more like tiny electronic gadgets than traditional cigarettes. Rather than producing tobacco smoke, e-cigarettes produce aerosol — often mistaken for water vapor — consisting of fine particles that contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory and heart disease.

The industry producing e-cigarettes also appears to be directly targeting teens and younger children, which has health organizations including the Arizona Department of Health Services concerned.

“While [e-cigarettes] may be a great way for adult smokers to get off of tobacco products, some of these e-cigarettes contain nicotine,” says Dr. Cara Christ, director of AZDHS. “And kids should never be exposed to nicotine.”

Concern over the trend has prompted the Federal Drug Administration to crack down on the vaping industry. A recent FDA statement said: “The troubling reality is that electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) such as e-cigarettes have become wildly popular with kids. … Many of them may be using products that closely resemble a USB flash drive, and have high levels of nicotine and emissions that are hard to see.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics added its concerns by releasing a study showing levels of cancer-causing chemicals among teens who used e-cigarettes were up to three times higher compared to teens who did not use e-cigarettes.

Another concern is the addition of fruit flavors to e-cigarettes. Flavors including bubble gum, gummy bears or fruit are “very, very popular with kids …and clearly target teens and younger children,” including pre-teens, says Christ. “We do know that we’ve got all [ages] of kids potentially using.”

In Arizona, the latest numbers tell the story: The High School Risk Behavior Survey shows that 51.6 percent of those polled in 2015 had tried vaping products, while 27.5 percent admitted they were currently using e-cigs or vapes. That number dropped to 16.1 percent in 2017, but the goal is zero.

The state health department is planning to launch a new ad campaign aimed at these products. Christ says the message is simple: E-cigarettes are not safe.

“Hey, you may think this doesn’t have nicotine, and that it’s not addictive, but it it does, and pretty soon you will be addicted,” she says, paraphrasing the health department’s message to kids. “[We know e-cigarettes] contain chemicals that can be carcinogens or cancer causing, and while [levels are] not as high as in regular cigarettes, the long-term exposure if you start as a child could have long-term health impacts.”

 

Talking points for parents from the U.S. Surgeon General:

  • Explain many e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can change your brain to make you crave more nicotine.
  • Let children know the brain is still developing until about age 25 and nicotine can harm brain development, damage memory and affect concentration and impulse control.
  • Explain e-cigarettes produce aerosol (not water vapor) that contains toxic chemicals linked to cancer and respiratory and heart disease.
  • Make it clear if their friends use e-cigarettes, breathing the cloud they exhale can still expose them to nicotine and dangerous chemicals.
  • At your child’s next doctor’s visit, ask the pediatrician to explain the risks of nicotine, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.
  • For more tips on talking to kids, visit e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov

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