By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The growing concern about vapes and e-cigarettes among teenagers was on full display for students, parents and staff during a panel discussion March 7 at Dearborn High School.
DHS Assistant Principal Kelly Dear said that since the beginning of the semester there have been over 70 cases of vaping in which items were caught, found and confiscated.
“I was in a meeting on Monday morning with principals from every one of the schools in our athletic league and every single principal said this is an enormous, serious problem,” Dear said. “What makes it an enormous, serious problem is just as we discover one method of vaping, some brilliant company out there finds another way of marketing poison to your child. They find another way to disguise it so it looks like something like a flash drive.”
Dear added that he has had students approach him with complaints of not being able to go to the bathroom because there are too many people in restroom vaping. He called that “heartbreaking” when students inform him of the vaping issues.
“Now your student might bring this little device home, but what we’re discovering now is that if a student has a device in the bathroom, for a buck or two a hit, that student will let another student vape alongside them,” Dear said.
According to PSU.edu, vaping is also known as “Juuling” — after a brand name of vaping products — and is becoming more popular with youth in middle and high schools.
“Vaping means using an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device,” the website reads. “It is referred to as vaping because tiny puffs or clouds of vapor are produced when using the devices.
“E-cigarettes are battery powered and deliver nicotine through a liquid (called e-juice), which turns into a vapor when using the devices. The liquid comes in flavors, such as mint, fruit, and bubble gum, which appeal to kids.”
St. Joseph Mercy Health System Exploration Station Program Coordinator Cheryl Phillips presented those in attendance at the discussion, hosted by the DHS Student Council and Students Against Substance Abuse, with information and statistics on vaping.
“Our best piece of advice is to assume this is deadly, assume vaping is just as deadly as any other product out there, cigarettes, cigars or any other drug unless science proves it’s not,” she said. “If that’s the attitude you go in with then you’re going to make a good decision for yourself and that’s all we want for the young people here.”
Phillips said vaping is done with an electronic nicotine delivery system — ENDS unit — known as e-cigarettes, mods, vape pens, e-hookahs and vapes tank systems. She also said vaping was developed in China in 2004 and in the United States in 2006.
“When they were developed in China in 2004 it was done with extremely good intentions,” Phillips said. “The people in China realized that there was a whole world of nicotine addicts out there and there were people dying, hundreds of thousands of them, every single year due to cigarette smoking and the costs.
“So their goal was to give people the nicotine fix they desired without the harmful side affects of cigarette smoking. That was the intent. That was the goal.”
A 2018 Youth Tobacco Survey showed that the use of e-cigarettes sky rocketed from 2013 to 2015 among high schoolers, then dropped back down in 2016 and 2017, but then increased again in 2018 not just in high school, but also increased among middle schoolers.
When e-cigarettes first were released they looked like e-pipes, e-cigars or large tanks, but today the popular models include ink pens, cellphones, USB hard drives, markers and credit cards.
The Juul is now the most popular among teenagers, Phillips said, due to its small size and pre-packaged vape juice, and that one pod with the juice has about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
The four primary ingredients of cape or e-juice include propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorings and nicotine, Phillips said. When the juice is heated up to 270 degrees in the vape, a chemical reaction takes place forming vaping aerosol with ingredients of ethylene glycol, benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, heavy metals, toxic flavorings and nicotine.
Phillips informed parents and students that tobacco and e-cigarette companies are targeting teenagers with the flavorings offered, design on the flavoring bottles and advertising.
According to the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey, reasons teens vape are due to peers, 39 percent; juice flavors, 31 percent; belief that it’s not harmful, 17 percent; and other reasons, 13 percent.
Some of the possible physical side effects Phillips listed was high blood pressure, insomnia, upset stomach, headaches, lung inflammation, with risk factors of failure in school performance, poor coping skills, ineffective parenting, perception of approval of drug use or lack of a support system.
Phillips stressed the importance of understanding the health effects of nicotine or THC, which is the main compound in marijuana, on the teenage brain which is not developed until the age of 25.
“The possible side effects of THC vaping are a racing heart, hallucination, erratic behavior, irrational fear, panic attack, psychosis and not being able to catch you breath,” she said.
The federal 2016 Tobacco Control Act bans sales to minors under 18 years old, free samples and vending machines; requires nicotine warning labels and lists of ingredients; and gives companies until November to come up with the harmful constituents in the vaping product. Phillips said Michigan is the only state in the country that currently does not have a law relating to vaping.
The Dearborn City Council recently amended the city’s code of ordinances to prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to minors or minors in possession of e-cigarettes and can be punishable by a fine of $50 or more if guilty.
During the question-and-answer portion of the discussion, some of the concerns addressed were about middle schoolers vaping, signs for parents to pick up if children are vaping, talking to someone to help them stop vaping, and education for students on vaping dangers.
“If you know somebody is vaping you can advise them, but if you feel uncomfortable to do that, you have school counselors,” Beaumont Health Substance Abuse Prevention Counselor Simone Calvas said. “The most important thing is to find out where the vape is coming from, are they purchasing it from a store that you know in the neighborhood? If so there are ways to report that without ramifications. The idea is to get the student and parent together to get as much as help as you can.
“The Beaumont Teen Health Center has an adolescent health clinic, which is actually free for anybody who doesn’t have health insurance, so we have counselors, prevention education, evidence based programs and we have a full clinic.”
When asked about what DHS and the Dearborn Public Schools are doing to reduce vaping in schools, Dear said schools are working with local organizations, including ACCESS, to educate students and parents about vaping and e-cigarettes. He also said the school added vaping to the health education curriculum, and more educational sessions on vaping will be added.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])