Schools tackling vaping impact on youth

Staff Writer

According to Child Mind Institute’s website, in 2017 more than 2.1 million middle school and high school students were using e-cigarettes. This number exceeded traditional cigarette usage.
Administration and staff from Whitley County Consolidated Schools, Smith-Green Community Schools and Whitko Community Schools are concerned about the use of vaping amongst their students.
“We have caught a fair number of students with different types of vape devices. Students aren’t really forthcoming about that side of things when you catch them with one, but, in theory, they’re not supposed to purchase them until they’re 18,” Columbia City High School Vice Principal Lyle Kuhmichel noted.
This is a problem schools throughout the country are trying to tackle. Why has vaping become so popular for youth?
Likely one of the first places to look is company marketing. The JUUL company, for example, produces vape devices that are colorful and feature different flavors.
Over seven thousand vape flavors exist such as cherry, coconut and berry.
According to the Child Mind Institute’s website, teens are after innovation and they’re attracted by the sleek designs and easy use of vape devices.
“They look like an Apple product,” Child Mind Institute Doctor Sarper Taskiran said, as published on the organization’s website (childmind.org).
More so than that, the product is relatively inexpensive, costing about $50 for the e-cigarette, charger and four pods.
Though vaping companies deny they are marketing their products to teenagers, they’re advertising colorful animations and ads featuring actors under 21-years-old allude to the image that vaping makes someone happier and improves their social status.
For schools, the challenge is not only how to present the dangers of these types of devices, but also how easy it is for students to hide.
“They do look very similar to a flash drive, so you can actually charge them from a computer because they will plug into a USB port. It’s very similar in size, and so if you’re not really looking, you may just think it’s a flash drive,” Kuhmichel said.
According to Breathe Pennsylvania, vapes contain four main ingredients. One of the ingredients is nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that raises blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. When nicotine enters the brain, it releases a feeling of contentedness when dopamine levels increase. Though nicotine isn’t considered a carcinogen, it’s still an addictive substance.
Most vape devices, before the popularity of JUUL devices, contained one to three percent nicotine, but that average is now rising to about five percent, the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.
Though there are many chemicals used to create the flavors, one prominent chemical inside of vapes is diacetyl. Diacetyl is used to give popcorn a buttery taste. While some professionals believe this chemical is safe to ingest, evidence shows that inhaling diacetyl can trigger an incurable disease called obliterative bronchiolitis, also known as “Popcorn Lung.”
Another ingredient is propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a lab-made liquid that is found in food, drugs and cosmetics. It can also be used to create artificial smoke and fog for performances. Propylene glycol can irritate the lungs and eyes, which can be more harmful for people with chronic lung diseases such as asthma and emphysema.
Glycerin is another ingredient found in vapes. Glycerin has a slightly sweet taste, but is mainly odorless and colorless. It is featured inside many products, such as prescriptions and over the counter medications.
There are some common myths associated with vapes. One of the myths is that vaping just produces vapor when really aerosol is actually produced.
“There’s very little water involved. What you’re actually seeing is a chemical called propylene glycol. And it goes down into the mouth, the upper airway, the back of the throat, the esophagus and the stomach, as well as the lungs,” Physician and Director of Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Programs at Penn Medicine Doctor Frank T. Leone said, as reported on pennmedicine.org.
Another myth is that vaping is safer than smoking regular cigarettes. There are lower concentrations of unsafe chemicals that cause lung cancer in vapes than compared to regular cigarettes, but what’s true on average isn’t always true of all individual instances.
“I can find e-cigarettes that deliver more of a particular carcinogen than a brand of regular cigarettes. This is because what’s true on average isn’t always true of the whole group,” Leone said.
The three Whitley County school districts strive to approach the topic of vaping by discussing the inherent dangers to the students. For example, a guest speaker was present to address the dangers of vaping to eighth and ninth graders at Churubusco Jr./Sr. High School during the spring.
“As part of our health curriculum for grades sixth, seventh and tenth, our students will learn the dangers of vaping. We will continue to educate our students so they can make healthy choices. We have plans of educating all of our staff this year about the growing issue of vaping in our country,” Churubusco Jr./Sr. High School Principal Jim Folland said.
If a student is caught with a vaping device, they will face disciplinary consequences as coordinated by the rules of their school’s student handbook.
“From the school, we’re going to contact parents and depending on if it’s your first offense, we’d be looking at in-school suspension. Then, we’d also contact our school resource officer because this is against the law for anyone under the age of 18 to possess one of them. They’re also subject to a ticket from Columbia City, but that’s up to the school resource officer to determine whether or not that’d be issued,” Kuhmichel said.
Besides posing a disciplinary action, the local school districts would like to help students by providing counseling options that are readily available in order to tackle any mental health issues they may be facing.
“Although consequences are assigned, the main focus is to help students break the habit and change the behavior. To that end, we do offer counseling programs, both in house and from external sources. As we have seen in the national media lately, this is a dangerous habit, and we want to help the student stop putting themselves in danger,” Whitko Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Brandon Penrod said.
“We do have an agreement with the Bowen Center, and any student that is a WCCS student can go and have an assessment done to see if there are any issues that possible therapy could help with, so that’s always an option. That’s not just for vaping, but it can be any kind of mental health concern,” Kuhmichel said.
The schools offer outlets for those students to report these sorts of incidents in confidence to staff and the school.
Whitley County Consolidated Schools, for example, also allows students to post anonymously through Skylert Quick Tip, which can be found on the school website at www.wccsonline.com.
To be more informative about the dangers of vaping and the lasting consequences nicotine can have, Kuhmichel encourages parents to speak with their children, saying it’s important to have that kind of dialogue to understand where students are coming from.
“It’s out there. I’m a parent myself. I have three kids. I know I have a lot of conversations with my own three children about the dangers of products like that. I would encourage parents to have conversations with their kids. If they’re a student athlete, there are additional consequences. They could lose eligibility to participate in sports for a period of time. It’s no different than a tobacco product. For those students, is it worth the risk to lose the ability to participate in something you love?”

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