In the midst of back-to-school season, officials throughout Union County are working to combat the teen vaping epidemic.
Shawn Sech, director of health promotions and planning at the Union County Health Department (UCHD), described vaping, or e-cigarette use, as “rampant” among youth.
“A lot of us thought this would be the first generation to graduate high school tobacco-free… but big tobacco is pulling them back in,” she said.
According to the 2018 Union County Youth Risk Survey, 11% of local teens reported using e-cigarettes as of last year. However, Sech said this statistic is likely low due to flaws in self-reporting and a substantial increase in the past year.
“We are missing the boat,” Sech said. “Kids have jumped on this trend faster than we’ve stopped it.”
In response, she said UCHD, Memorial Hospital and Prevention Awareness Support Services (PASS) are working with schools to develop “diversion curriculum” as a preventative measure that will pilot this school year.
Doug Matthews, health planner at UCHD, said the health department is working with local school districts to model tobacco-free policies that aim to prevent e-cigarette use.
This includes giving presentations and creating posters at Marysville’s middle and high schools to educate teens regarding the dangers of vaping.
Although many students believe vaping isn’t harmful, Sech said education at schools focuses on how vaping can negatively affect a student’s life.
“We ask them, ‘Where do your goals send you?’” she said. “Vaping is not helping you get there, it’s a barrier to you getting there.”
She also encouraged parents to get involved in preventing their child from using e-cigarettes by openly talking about it and role modeling how to say no to vaping.
Despite efforts to curb teen vaping, Sech and Matthews said there are several reasons it has skyrocketed among teens in recent years.
Sech said one brand of e-cigarettes, JUUL, is especially popular among youth. She said they have a sleek look that “equates them to other tech devices” and encourages teens to associate them with a “cool factor.”
Since JUUL e-cigarettes are smaller in size, look similar to USB drives and produce a smaller puff of “smoke,” Matthews said it is especially difficult for adults to identify and prevent use among youth.
“E-cigarettes are so easy to conceal that teachers, staff and parents may not even know if someone is using them,” he said.
Beyond that, Sech said many teens don’t believe vaping is dangerous, so their risk of using is higher.
Regardless of teens’ perception, she said there are dangers associated with e-cigarette use that are amplified for young people.
Sech said it is difficult to definitively say what the effects of vaping are, since e-cigarettes have only been on the market for about a decade.
But, she said there are over 70 years of research available on the dangers of smoking traditional cigarettes. Through this, medical professionals are aware of the dangers of nicotine, a chemical that is even more concentrated in e-cigarettes than traditional ones.
“The research we have seen (on e-cigarettes) so far is not positive,” she said.
Matthews said there are over 2,000 potentially dangerous chemicals present in e-cigarettes, such as formaldehyde. These, in combination with nicotine, have numerous adverse effects, including: inhibiting brain development, affecting reproductive health or increasing the risk of cancer and lung diseases.
Additional information about the dangers of vaping is emerging, as reports from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) indicate that six Ohioans have recently experienced severe pulmonary illness following vaping. This is part of a larger outbreak of illnesses linked to vaping throughout 16 states.
Sech said vaping has reached epidemic levels and should be taken seriously by students, educators and parents, alike.
Youth who want to quit vaping can reach out to My Life, My Quit by calling (855) 891-9989 or visiting www.mylifemyquit.com.
Parents who are interested in resources regarding how to talk to their children about vaping may visit www.lung.org/stop-smoking/vape-talk/.
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