Fighting back against vaping

Forum highlights health dangers, notes “epidemic” use among teens

by Tom Coombe
The numbers are daunting and school officials including Ely High School Principal Megan Anderson say that vaping among teens is an “epidemic.”
Anderson provided firsthand evidence Monday during a public forum at the high school on the use of e-cigarettes, what’s commonly known as vaping.
The principal held a “vape” - the size of computer flash drive - that she found in a parking lot on campus while bringing her elementary-aged children to school.
“This is it,” Anderson told an audience of about 20 people in the high school media center. “This is the battle we have right now. These are pretty concealable, pretty small, pretty scary.”
Beyond the anecdotal tales this week were a plethora of numbers, all showing the use of e-cigarettes on the rise, and data noting the health risks associated with their use.
Taylour Blakeman, who hosted the forum put on by the American Lung Association, rattled off data that showed one in three 11th grade boys in St. Louis County use e-cigarettes, a number that officials say has only grown since the survey was taken three years ago.
Showing off a “Juul,” a popular e-cigarette that looks like a computer flash drive, Blakeman said that one pod is the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes.
“We’ve heard of kids using four pods a day,” said Blakeman. “That’s an eight pack a day addiction.”
Initially promoted as cigarette smoking cessation devices, e-cigarettes pack nicotine and are highly addictive and harm adolescent brain development, according to health officials.
E-cigarette use is currently not regulated, despite the increase in alarming health data and the risk of long-term effects that can hamper learning, memory, attention span and lead to future addiction.
E-cigarettes have been known to explode and contain heavy metals, particularly cancer causing agents.
“These are things not meant for inhalation,” said Blakeman.
E-cigarettes have also become popular among youth, and the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, with various flavors such as candy and maple pancakes packing appeal.
Blakeman said that e-cigarettes have also been marketed to youth, particularly via social media.
Combatting their use, particularly in school, is increasingly difficult, given their size and their resemblance to flash drives or pens.
Organizers passed around a box mixed with “vapes” and school supplies to show how difficult it can be to detect.
Blakeman said that vapes often have a fruity smell, which has led some schools to adopt no scent policies.
“One of the biggest tip offs is smell,” said Blakeman.
According to Blakeman, tobacco use among youth has risen for the first time in 17 years.
She promoted the ALA’s efforts to raise the state’s tobacco age to 21, pointing to legislation already enacted by 18 states covering 50 percent of the population of the United States
Nearly 50 Minnesota cities, including some in northern Minnesota, have enacted so-called “Tobacco 21” ordinances, and supporters say the move will make it more difficult for teens and preteens to access tobacco products or e-cigarettes.
They’re also taking their case directly to youth. A video shown at the forum included interviews with several high school students highlighting the addictive qualities and dangers of vaping.
“We’ve found that peer education is the best,” said Blakeman.