The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns vaping, the latest trend to sweep the nation, can lead to a lifelong nicotine addiction and unknown health effects.
Electronic cigarettes — otherwise known as e-cigarettes, vaporizers or vapes — “are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol, or mix of small particles in the air,” according to the CDC.
While e-cigarette creators often claim they market their products only toward adult smokers, many teens are drawn to tasty flavors like creme brulee and mango.
In a survey of high school juniors in Union County, the number of students who said they have smoked a vape increased from 16 percent in 2016 to 17.4 percent in 2018, according to the Union County Safe Communities Coalition. Some students are reportedly violating no tolerance policies at their schools by bringing their vapes onto school grounds and smoking them in bathrooms and in class.
While vaping has been around for five or six years at La Grande High School, Principal Brett Baxter has noticed a recent spike in students smoking vapes on school property and in the building itself.
“There’s definitely been a renewed interest this year, but the difference is the students are bolder about it,” he said. “Vaping concerns me because you can hide it and there’s a perception that it’s not dangerous at all.”
The CDC reports nicotine ingestion can harm brain development in adolescents, as the human brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. Consuming nicotine at an early age can solidify neurological pathways, leading to a lifelong addiction. Even if the e-cigarette contains no nicotine, the liquid aerosol can include harmful ingredients such as ultrafine particles, flavoring chemicals linked to lung disease, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, according to the CDC.
DeAnne Mansveld, prevention programs coordinator at the Center for Human Development and member of the Union County Safe Communities Coalition, said because there are so many unknowns about the health effects of smoking a vape, it really isn’t accurate to say it is a safe alternative to using traditional tobacco products.
“Safer doesn’t mean safe. With a lot of the vape products, the research isn’t conclusive yet because there hasn’t been enough time for the studies to determine the health consequences,” she said. “The adolescent brain is still developing, so when addictive substances are introduced during that time it can frame the brain for lifelong addiction. The research has indicated that early teen use of vape products is leading them to traditional tobacco products.”
Brett Smith, assistant principal of La Grande High School, said while he agrees vaping could usher teens toward using tobacco, there are a few distinctions between the two products that may cause teens to choose vaping over cigarettes: its discreet nature and the perception that it is a safe alternative to traditional tobacco.
“I think the big difference between vape and smoking is no one here on campus is lighting up a cigarette in a classroom. We’re not naive enough to think kids don’t smoke cigarettes and other things outside of school, but here on campus, it’s a no tolerance zone,” Smith said. “The vape provides a way to infiltrate that.”
See complete story in Wednesday's Observer