Schools Need to be on Alert (and be Alerted) as Vaping Reaches Three Million Students

For years manufacturers have been finding ways to make products more appealing to kids, either by design or through the senses (i.e. smell, taste, etc.). We now have grape-flavored pediatric cold medicine and vitamins that look like Gummy Bears. So it makes perfect sense that we also now have odors that smell like cool mint or mango drifting from the student bathrooms.

The 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 11.7% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students used e-cigarettes. And in many instances, the restrooms in America’s high schools and middle schools, where by law video cameras are not allowed, have become a popular place to enjoy the puff of the day as this epidemic continues to grow.

The National Education Association estimates that up to three million students are using vaping products, many utilizing the JUUL brand, which not only smells and tastes good, but also looks like a really cool computer flash drive that can be charged in a USB port, with each JUUL cartridge containing roughly the same amount of highly-addictive nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

“It’s happening in the hallways, it’s happening in the bathrooms, we even had a kid a couple of years ago vaping in the classroom,” says Cam Traut, a school nurse at Libertyville High School in the Chicago suburbs and a National Association of School Nurses board member. “I get the sense that students think its safe,” says Traut. “The marketing or advertising was, ‘oh, this is a much healthier version of traditional, tobacco cigarettes,’ so the kids have focused on that ‘healthier’ component. And it’s taken off like wildfire.

“As a school, we’re trying to provide some education to the kids so that they understand the health risks they’re taking, and we’re also educating our staff on what to look for… but it’s an uphill battle, ” says Traut.

Those flavors are attractive to kids, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics. Meanwhile, 15- to-17-year-olds are more than 16 times more likely to be JUUL users than 25- to 34-year-olds, according to the Truth Initiative, a non-profit public health organization that was established 20 years ago as part of a settlement between tobacco companies and states. The chart below tells more of the story.

Credit: National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017)

The device’s maker says it’s intended only for adults trying to quit smoking, that its website aims to block underage customers, and the company supports legislation to raise the minimum age for vaping products to 21 nationwide. But as JUUL and the FDA play the “he-said, she-said” game, young people are getting sick and, in many instances, dying.

So how do we track vaping in schools?

Watch for Part 2 of our Vaping Blog.

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