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Chester County Press

Tackling vaping, head-on

03/25/2019 09:16AM ● By J. Chambless

At Hopewell Elementary, students learned about the dangers of vaping and took time to enjoy healthy exercise during Kick Butts Day on March 20.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

As part of a week-long effort to confront the rapidly expanding use of e-cigarettes, students at Hopewell Elementary School in Oxford heard all the facts, and capped the week with an assembly run by the Chester County Health Department that showed sixth-graders how addictive vaping is.

Lindsay Smith presented a program that avoided scare tactics but just laid out the facts about vaping, which is being marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes. Before the program, Smith said that schools countywide have been asking for the Health Department’s vaping program, after 2017 surveys indicated that 2 percent of the sixth graders in the county had vaped, and that 82 percent of them did not know what was in the product they had used.

The Health Department is working with schools and school nurses, who are sometimes the first to see young students with vaping-related sore throats, coughing or other persistent symptoms.

Smith pointed out in her program how the packaging for Juul and other “nicotine delivery systems” used bright colors and fruity or candy flavors to appeal to younger users. “Do you think the companies do that on purpose?” she asked the students.

For Erika Seaman, a physical education and health teacher at Hopewell Elementary, smoking is the enemy of young lives, and the makers of e-cigarettes are playing dirty to get their product into the hands of young people. On March 20, which was Kick Butts Day, sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Seaman was taking groups of students to the school track to run or walk a lap or two, reinforcing the appeal of exercise and healthier living.

As the parent of sixth-graders, Seaman feels the encroaching pressure from e-cigarettes, particularly the craze of the moment, Juul. The company has taken over more than a quarter of the vaping market in the past year. Juul Labs makes the Juul e-cigarette that uses nicotine salts that exist in leaf-based tobacco for its key ingredient. The company faced a backlash after it flavored its products to taste like mango, fruit and crème to appeal to first-time users, particularly young people. They have since halted some of the flavors in stores, but continue to sell them online. They do continue to market mint, which is the most popular flavor with young people.

While those under 18 are prohibited by law from purchasing cigarettes and e-cigarettes in Pennsylvania stores, the product is available online to anyone with money who lies about their age.

In a statement sent to the Chester County Press, a Juul spokesperson wrote, "We are committed to preventing youth access of Juul products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try Juul. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. That is why we have taken the most dramatic and aggressive steps of any other manufacturer in the industry to prevent underage use with the JUUL Labs Action Plan.

“We suspended the distribution of certain flavored Juul pods to traditional retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our e-commerce site, exited our U.S. Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use. 
"In addition, we strongly support raising the minimum purchase age for cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products to 21 in Pennsylvania. We look forward to working with lawmakers at at the federal, state and local levels to achieve this end."

Seaman organized the week of activities at Hopewell Elementary, using ongoing classroom messages about avoiding smoking, getting healthy exercise, and finally the program that attacked e-cigarettes head-on.

A large part of the problem is that parents are not aware of what Juul looks like, Seaman said. “They look like flash drives,” she said. “A parent who noticed one of them in their child’s backpack would think it was a flash drive and not suspect anything.”

The Juul e-cigarettes are “a huge trend among middle schoolers and high schoolers,” Seaman said. “What we’re trying to do is head off student use in middle school. Our health classes have talked about vaping and the health consequences, and how to deal with relatives who may already smoke. It’s about trying to grow awareness.”

According to The Truth Initiative, a national anti-smoking organization, the use of e-cigarettes, now the most popular tobacco product among teens, has jumped 78 percent among high school students compared with 2017, with 20.8 percent (more than 3 million) of high schoolers now using e-cigarettes, according to new FDA data. In Pennsylvania, 11.3 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, while 8.7 percent smoke cigarettes. The data also show that more than half of those high schoolers — 51.2 percent — use menthol- or mint-flavored e-cigarettes.

Unlike the odor of cigarettes or marijuana, there is no residual smell when a young person vapes, aside from a slight mint or sweet odor given off in the vapor. Parents are likely to not notice that their child has been vaping.

Flavors also contribute to many youth e-cigarette users incorrectly believing they aren’t consuming nicotine when they vape. The majority of youth e-cigarette users think they vaped only flavoring, not nicotine, the last time they used a product, according to an annual national survey of more than 40,000 students from the University of Michigan 2016 Monitoring the Future study, despite the fact that 99 percent of e-cigarettes sold in most brick-and-mortar stores contain nicotine. According to the Juul website, the device delivers nicotine up to 2.7 times faster than other e-cigarettes.

Nicotine is harmful to developing brains: younger users are more likely to become addicted, have more difficulty quitting and are at higher risk for addiction to other substances in the future. Young adults who use e-cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking cigarettes within 18 months compared with their peers who do not vape

“Vaping was originally marketed as a way to help smokers quit smoking,” Seaman said, “but it’s just as addictive as smoking. Vapes are a gateway to smoking later in life. It’s a nationwide problem, and parents have no idea.”

Additional information about tobacco, including state-by state statistics, can be found at www.tobaccofreekids.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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