Take a look at the photo above. Can you spot all of the vape pens and e-cigarette devices?
How many did you guess? Are you surprised to read that more than half of the devices in the picture are used to vape nicotine or cannabis?
As these companies adopt more sly tactics for their product development and marketing efforts, some youth are turning to these devices to help deal with stress, or to fit in with their peers. Oftentimes vaping and e-cigarettes act as ‘gateway’ devices that lead people to smoke cigarettes in the future. These realities are why Lamoille North and vital community partners like Healthy Lamoille Valley are working to prevent substance use and improve the health and wellness and quality of life in our communities.
Recently the school district and Healthy Lamoille Valley (HLV) came together to host a community town hall focused on vaping. The evening was a chance to talk about these devices, explain how they work, the health impacts of vaping, how students interact with and perceive them, and how to prevent use and help students that may be dependent.
“E-cigarettes have evolved over the years. The modern-day vape was created in the mid-2000s and looked a lot like a regular cigarette. As they progressed they started to look a little more sleek,” explained Brian Duda, Youth Substance Prevention Coordinator with HLV, “As we get to the fourth generation, we get the device many have heard of called the Juul. We are now in the 5th generation of disposable vapes.”
E-Cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol, or mix of small particles in the air. The liquid used in vapes and e-cigarettes often contains nicotine and flavoring. Users inhale that aerosol into their lungs and others can also inhale the vapor when the user exhales, so there is the risk of secondhand smoke with these devices. Users are also getting exposed to heavy metals like lead and cadmium from the device and battery.
81% of kids who ever used tobacco products started with a flavored product.
Despite a national ban on flavored vapes that went into effect in 2020 on refillable vape cartridges, companies have shifted to the development of single-use vape devices that are still currently legal. And there’s no shortage of flavors. Today there are more than 8,000 e-cigarette flavors. These flavors help mask the ‘harshness’ of a typical cigarette or cigar, making vapes more palatable for young people.
According to Lamoille North students who were anonymously interviewed ahead of the town hall, it is indeed these flavors that help to draw young users. One student had this to say, “One thing that’s different from cigarettes is the flavors and colors. It’s those things that kids latch on to, ‘Oh I can try strawberry, or mango, or whatever’.”
How did we get here? Why are teens and youth trying these devices?
“According to national studies, many teens say they start vaping to see what it’s like, to experiment,” explained Jessica Bickford, the Coordinator of Healthy Lamoille Valley. For many teens, other use factors include the taste and flavoring of the vape, fitting in with friends, and relaxing and relieving tension. “Something that we can do is really start to demystify what’s really in these devices,” added Bickford.
66% of teens think it's just flavoring inside their vape juice. Manufacturers don’t have to report e-cig ingredients, so users don’t know what’s actually in them.
Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine which is highly addictive and can harm brain development, which continues until about age 25. Nicotine can impact attention, learning, mood, impulse control, and more. And despite the claim that vaping and e-cigarettes are, or can be healthier than traditional cigarettes, e-cigs pack a powerful punch of nicotine. One Juul pod is equivalent to around 40 cigarettes and a puff bar is equivalent to about 80 cigarettes. According to another Lamoille North student, it’s again a lack of knowledge that can hurt them, “It seems like kids know that vaping is bad for them, but it’s that mindset of ‘I’m untouchable’ that keeps them going. They may not understand that this stuff is still addicting.”
To be clear, e-cigarettes and vaping products should never be used by kids, teens, or young adults according to the Centers for Disease Control. There is no safe tobacco product and all tobacco products including e-cigarettes carry a risk.
So what is Lamoille North doing to keep our students safe and informed of the risks of substance use?
Across the district, Lamoille North has and continues to prioritize education and prevention for students. Investments have been made in staff training and staffing numbers. Next year a new health teacher joins the team at Lamoille Union Middle School who will work to educate all students about the risks of vaping and other substances. There is additional intensive support available for students who are in need of immediate help.
At the High School, school administrators have overhauled their staff handbook to include programs and services that will better serve and support students dealing with substance use issues. The 2023-2024 school year will see a new School Resource Officer stationed at the High School, and a second School Resource Officer who will support the entire Lamoille North school community, both of whom are trained in the risks of substances and who will seek to support the students and families who are in need.
And Lamoille North continues to partner with experienced and knowledgeable partners like Healthy Lamoille Valley. One example of this partnership includes a two-part refusal skills workshop offered to all 6th graders in the district.
What can we do at home and across our communities to support our youth?
Approaching a conversation with your child or a family member about vaping isn’t easy. Duda, Bickford, and other experts caution you to take time and prepare for the talk. Coming from a place of love and support will help keep all parties calm, and should help lead to a more productive conversation. We all need to support our kids, show them we care, take an interest in their hobbies, and let them know they can and should reach out to trusted adults for support. Use little moments to connect with your child or teen; many little conversations are much better than just one big “talk.”
Look to the resources below for more information:
Watch the full Town Hall Recording to learn about even more resources.
If you would like to connect with others working on issues related to vaping and tobacco topics, consider attending the next Tobacco and Vape Taskforce meeting on May 23rd.