EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT
Parents and guardians recently attended a program about the dangers of underage vaping at Eyer Middle School. Organized by Emmaus High School Principal Dr. Kate Kieres and Caron Treatment Centers, the event discussed the growing trend of vaping, the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol produced by an electronic device.
Attendees also learned how to prevent and seek treatment for addiction.
Mallory Henry, coordinator of student prevention program services at Caron Centers, began the program by covering the basics of vaping.
While devices come in many varieties, the components are similar. Powered by a rechargeable battery, an internal reservoir holds the pods of liquid or e-juice in place. Connected is the atomizer, a heating element that produces a vapor. At the end of the device is a mouthpiece where the user inhales and exhales the vapor.
The liquid is made of pure nicotine, along with several chemicals including glycerin and polyethylene glycol. What makes vaping appealing to consumers is the thousands of flavors and nicotine levels to choose from, tailoring the drug to the individual user. While there are many different device brands, Henry stated currently JUUL is the trendiest.
Debuting in 2015, JUUL owns 35 percent of the market. It resembles a USB flash drive, providing a discreet and compact design. JUUL is moderately priced at $49, plus $15.99 for a four-pack of flavor pods.
Introduced in 2007, vaping itself is not an old trend. Henry noted that while Caron and other organizations have learned much about the drug, there still is so much information not yet known.
In the marketplace, vaping is overtaking the interests of underage smokers. Henry presented statistics collected in a 2017 survey by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. According to the survey, 13.3 percent of eighth grade students vaped while only 1.9 percent smoked tobacco cigarettes. Similar statistics surfaced among 10th and 12th grade students.
While minors cannot buy the devices, students have found ways around the law. Friends and relatives can obtain most of the equipment. Buyers do not have to purchase devices directly from the manufacturer. Websites sell devices and many accept payment from PayPal and gift cards.
Students also set up the delivery address either from their own homes or from uninhabited houses where they or someone else can pick up the package. In addition, users stash devices in hiding places where others can use them whenever they want, according to Henry.
Henry noted because vaping is so customizable and efficient, underage smokers become the prime target demographic. Because devices provide a discreet look and smell, it is easy for users to sneak devices into their backpacks, purses or gym bags.
In addition, social media websites increase exposure by advertising vaping devices frequently and videos show vaping tricks where users exhale vapor in different shapes and sizes. Flavor pods also feature sugary and fruity varieties, making underage vaping even more appealing, Henry said. Marijuana-derived products such as butane hash oil are also on the rise, increasing illegal recreational use of the drug.
Henry also believes the current generation is a test group for vaping manufacturers. She said whenever she mentors underage users, she asks them if they really want to become “guinea pigs,” or if they will let vaping advertisers and companies manipulate them into buy more products.
According to Henry, 60 percent of adolescent users believe that occasional vaping is not dangerous. Though portrayed as a lighter and healthier option to tobacco, vaping is actually even more harmful. The high amounts of nicotine in the flavor pods contain as much as a pack of tobacco cigarettes. Vaping damages adolescent brain development and the respiratory system.
Adolescences who vape are four times more likely to smoke tobacco. Vaping devices also are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. So far, however, toxic chemicals such as arsenic, lead and acetone have been found in the flavor pods, Henry continued.
Many parents in the audience voiced concern and others learned new facts about vaping. Nevertheless, Henry reassured parents they have the upper hand in the situation.
“You as a parent are the number-one influence. Don’t give away your power,” Henry said.
Henry encouraged parents to talk with their children and set clear boundaries. Instead of using scare tactics and lecturing, parents were encouraged to utilize teachable moments and ask their children questions about what they have heard.
“Resiliency is key,” Henry said. “Teach them what to do before they are in the moment.”
Kieres talked about how East Penn School District is taking steps to prevent abuse and addiction.
The health course curriculum includes discussion of vaping in the drug/alcohol unit and chaperons monitor school events for suspicious activity and if needed, permanently confiscate devices.
However, Kieres believes there is still a long way to go. She hopes parents and faculty members can combat vaping as they did with tobacco in the past.
East Penn School District has an anonymous tip line at 610-966-8400.
Caron Treatment Center also offers a service called Student Assistant Program referrals, a special team to screen students. For more information, contact Caron Treatment Center at 844-260-1324.