Teen tobacco smoking is down nationwide but students are becoming addicted to electronic cigarettes, creating an epidemic that school districts across the state are trying to stop before it gets worse.

E-cigarettes are sold as a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes and to help adults quit smoking. However, they have become a major draw to minors with developing bodies and brains, creating attention and mood disorders. Federal officials recently announced that they are investigating 35 reports of seizures in young e-cigarette users since 2010.

They are mostly using an e-cigarette called a JUUL TM device that resembles a USB drive and can be charged in a laptop or computer. It is popular among young people because it can be concealed and use popular flavors which taste and smell good.

The device contains a mouthpiece, a heating component that is powered by a battery and the e-liquid cartridge or a JUUL TM “pod.” The e-liquid contains twice the amount of nicotine in other e-cigarettes and one pod has the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. In addition, the pods contain cancer-causing chemicals like benzyne and nicotine salts from tobacco leaves that are absorbed in the body at the same rate as combustible cigarettes.

Once the device is warmed up, it produces an aerosol or vapor containing particles which have toxic chemicals linked to cancer and heart and respiratory diseases. Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling this vapor which can vary in quantity and toxicity depending on the device.

“Vaping has become a critical issue in our schools as students are able to vape, sometimes undetected, in the bathrooms and classrooms. This is odorless and colorless, so it becomes difficult to address as it is occurring,” said Lorna Lewis, Plainview-Old Bethpage. “These devices come with flavored products, sometimes marijuana based, that are meant to attract adolescents into harmful long-lasting negative health habits.” Lewis said in some cases students are using the Chrome books that were provided for instruction to charge the battery in their e-cigarettes in the USB port and activate the product.

Alarming Numbers and Legislation
In addition to the JUUL TM name, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says e-cigarettes have a host of names – on their website they are listed as “e-cigs,” “vapes,” “e-hookahs,” “vape pens,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).” They resemble other smoking equipment like cigarettes, cigars and pipes and look like thick pens and other ordinary items.

The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 21 percent of high school students are using e-cigarettes and that vaping among high schoolers rose by 78 percent from 2017-2018 and 48 percent among middle schoolers. Meanwhile, school officials fear fourth and fifth graders are experimenting with these vaping devices since they are easily accessible to minors.

In July 2017, state law banned e-cigarettes from all school property in part because of a powerful grass roots effort from students who are part of Reality Check, a group that helps to decrease tobacco use among young people and protect them from tobacco marketing.

The new state budget did not include a prohibition on selling tobacco or e-cigarette prod¬ucts to individuals under 21, but the Senate passed the standalone bill shortly after the budget passed. The Assembly previously passed it and it will be signed by the Governor.

The budget also did not include authority for the Department of Health to regulate flavored products for use in vape pens and other electronic devices. Both houses have advanced bills to this effect. To discourage use of these products, new taxes and regula¬tions were imposed on the e-cigarette retailers.

Meanwhile, e-cigarette materials, including e-liquids, also called “vape juice” can be purchased in “vape” box stores or online. Customers must provide proof they are of age to purchase products based on their state laws, which can be 18 to 21. They can provide proof of their age through several ways, including a photo identification upload and/or the last four digits of their social security number to verify their age to purchase the materials.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is so concerned about the epidemic among the young that if the new National Youth Tobacco Survey underway shows increases in vaping usage, they will call for an all-out ban on e-cigarettes. Last fall, the FDA told the five largest e-cigarette producers to create a plan to keep young people from starting the unhealthy habit.

In addition, the American Academy of Family Physicians has a strong anti-vaping campaign to help doctors and their patients understand the situation. For more informa¬tion, read https://www.aafp.org/patient-care/public-health/tobacco-nicotine/e-cigs.html

Prevention and Punishment
As a result of this epidemic, school districts are attempting to tackle the problem on several fronts, including prevention and punishment efforts. In one instance,a student came in with a doctor’s note allowing the student to vape to kick a tobacco habit, but the school district said no.

Some school leaders have sent parent letters and brochures about the dangers of vaping and how to figure out if their children are using these products. Others have held public meetingsabout the trend and will host more in the future.

Schools also have open conversations with their students about how to prevent vaping. During class time, middle school health teachers are teaching their students about the dangers of vaping and trying to intervene before they get to high school where the problem is the worst.

When students are caught vaping, they face a variety of consequences such as detention, five-day suspensions and a superintendent’s hearing depending on their school district. In the past, schools returned the vaping equipment to the parents when their children were caught but now the materials are disposed of. Some schools believe that punishment may not be the best practice.

“We are revamping our discipline practice for this because most schools are currently suspending when they find kids vaping and we are working to building in education more explicitly,” said Kathy Graupman, Greece. “I have shared with our team that I don’t want kids losing instructional time. I hate the idea of suspending and sending kids home where they may vape more. We will be rolling out an educational plan that builds in consequences and learning. This is honestly the direction we need to head to address this issue.”

Schools are also recruiting the help of students and parents to fight the epidemic. In addition, they are asking parents to talk to their kids about the dangers and support students who are resisting the peer pressure to start vaping.

One way in which schools are finding out if their students are vaping on school grounds is using sensors like the Halo smart sensor made by Premier Gold Partner A+ Technology & Security Solutions, Inc. The units are put into bathrooms, locker rooms and classroom ceilings and connect to the school’s IT network. The device currently has 12 sensors built into it and these sensors detect both vapor and chemical signatures sending alerts based on how the schools configure them.

Most of the schools using them, currently more than 60, are sending email and text alerts to security staff and/or admin¬istrators for the following: Smoking; Vaping of Nicotine and THC (Marijuana oil); CO2; Aggression/bullying/gun-shot decibel levels; and Tampering.

The alerts are set up with the security system and cameras set up in the hallways outside of the rooms. For example, when a student smokes pot or vapes in the bathroom, it sets off the Halo unit and sends the alerts with a time stamp. If staff cannot catch the person in the act, they can review the hallway camera recording and match up the camera time feed to the alert time and show who set the alarm off.

“We are getting very good feedback from our schools and most are ordering additional units after the initial testing period has proved successful,” said Rick Cadiz, vice president of sales and marketing for A+ Technology & Security.
There is another product that is a web application that has not worked as well. Sometimes districts confuse the two products so Cadiz said his company has had to dispel some negative comments on a product that is not theirs. This other product cannot distinguish between some body sprays, methane and vape so it is giving districts some difficulties and additional headaches in addressing false alarms.
Halo’s chemical sensor clearly differentiates between the chemical elements of each keeping false alarms to a minimum, he said.

Another way to detect vaping use is to teach parents where their children hide their vaping devices. Lauren French, Gouverneur said her district’s school nurse received a grant to use a tool kit to show school officials and parents the many different places where the e-cigarettes and other substances could be hidden in students’ bedrooms. Here is the link: http://powertotheparent.org/be-aware/hidden-in-plain-sight/

“I have a kit to use as a hands-on training,” said Bev Martin, RN, head of health services for Gouverneur. “It is an educational experience that takes you through a typical teenage bedroom offering adult insight to trending youth substance abuse and concealment of alcohol/drugs/paraphernalia. It is quite an eye opener!”
School districts are working hard to stem the vaping epidemic in a variety of ways while trying not to lose hope that they can make an impact. However, they need more help from students, their families and their communities to make it a wider public service campaign and get young people to stop or never start the dangerous vaping habit. For more information: https://www.thetruth.com/articles/hot-topic/safer-safe

Here is an example of an anti-vaping campaign being incorporated into a school district:
GRADES 9-12:
• All students receive age appropriate push-in lessons through their health classes about the dangers of vaping.
• Posters/visual aids are displayed around the building.
• Student bathrooms display posters from anti-vaping campaign.
• Hallways display posters from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
• Information board in the Guidance Department displays dangers of vaping.

• Middle school staff presentations with updated vaping information.
• Middle school PTA presentations with updated vaping information.
• High school PTA presentation with updated vaping information.

• Information/education provided to students and parents during vaping-related suspension meetings.
• Send parent letters home with updated information, articles and resources.

Individual Students:
• A teacher is working with students individually to help them understand vaping-related health consequences and reduce their use to abstinence.
• A self-assessment check-list is available in the Guidance Department to “self-diagnose” nicotine use.

This article was reposted from the NYSCOSS Councilgram, May 2019/Volume 8/Newsletter Issue 10

Written by Holly McKenna, Administrative & Communications Assistant, The Council

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