It’s a device which first began as a means to an end, yet has catapulted into not only concern but a teen epidemic. Vaping, which began simply as an e-cigarette to help adults kick the smoking habit, is now showing to be as harmful or more so than that of traditional smoking.
Making matters worse is its discreet appearance and use which makes it even more difficult for parents and educators to detect.
“What we are hearing from the media is what we know and what we are hearing is that there’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to vaping,” Armida Colon, OJUSD Director of State and Federal Programs, shared. “It has been an unregulated market for a long time.”
Recent reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that a total of close to 1,000 cases of lung illness related to vaping in 46 states is under investigation. This includes 12 deaths which have also been linked to nicotine and cannabis vaping products.
An even larger concern is the age at which students are starting to use the substance, which is illegal for those under the age of 21 in the state of California.
Not taking the facts or the growing use of the product lightly, OJUSD will include the topic of vaping in the curriculum covered Oct. 21 to Oct. 25 during Red Ribbon Week. Colon shared the target group of students for this awareness is fourth grade up through seniors in high school.
“If you look at the national trend, it’s actually the teens at the junior high level that start dabbling in these products,” Colon said. “The selling point is those candy flavors.”
Colon shared, while she has no idea how the students are obtaining the vaping devices their sleek design and odorless/undetectable nature make it hard for school administration to control. An even bigger concern is the naïve nature of the students and their lack of awareness on the product’s addictive qualities.
“One of the things we’ve found related to the effects of vaping is that there is a perception that vaping is not going to have a negative effect on them,” she said.
“One of these pods could have the equivalent to a whole pack of cigarettes of nicotine in them,” Colon continued.
During a Healthy Kids Survey administered to seventh, ninth and 11th graders in December 2018 it became apparent that a large number of students do not feel vaping will have a negative effect on them.
“Seventy nine percent of eleventh graders don’t feel that e-cigarettes or vaping devices used several times a day are going to be harmful to them,” Colon shared from the Healthy Kids Survey. “That’s alarming. That’s troubling, because they don’t understand the implications of those devices.
“They are sold by their flavor and that’s what the kids are gravitating towards, they’re not necessarily processing the fact that there is some nicotine and in some cases high levels of nicotine in that product,” Colon stated.
The goal for the district administration at this point is to educate students, as well as staff on the overall risks and health risks associated with the devices. The administrator shared they are trying to empower students to be more informed. Educate themselves on what they’re consuming and where it’s coming from. In addition to the product being illegal for persons under the age of 21 it is also against district policy to vape or have a device on any OJUSD campus.
Ultimately the message Colon hopes they get across is, “Don’t be a guinea pig for the industry.”
The addition of vaping to the Red Ribbon Week agenda is both timely, as well as necessary. A modification regarding the devices will also be made to the district Drug Store Project which is hosted in the spring, every other year, for fifth and sixth grade students.