Va­p­ing co­nun­drum: Curb teens, hurt would-be quit­ters?

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Nancy Coltun Web­ster Post-Tri­bune

Nearly a dozen peo­ple pa­tiently waited in line out­side Vapin N Portage, 5912 U.S. 6, an adults-only elec­tronic cig­a­rette shop, for it to open on a re­cent morn­ing.

They were seek­ing prod­ucts that some use to quit smok­ing, but that in­creas­ingly are com­ing un­der fire as their use by teens ex­plodes.

Leanne Fer­rell, 37, of Portage, touts how she was helped.

“I smoked for 22 years,” she said. “My daugh­ter wanted me to quit smok­ing, so I tried va­p­ing — and I quit smok­ing.”

That was four years ago, and through­out that time, Fer­rell said she has de­creased the amount of nico­tine she puts in her vape.

Erin No­vak, one of four as­sis­tant prin­ci­pals at Lake Cen­tral High School, sees it dif­fer­ently.

“It is an epi­demic,” No­vak said. “We are deal­ing with it on a daily ba­sis. Fif­teen to 20 years ago, you would have a kid here and there in the bath­room to sneak a cig­a­rette. They were iden­ti­fi­able by smell. Kids hide (e-cig­a­rettes) well. There’s no lighter, no matches. No smell. It is eas­ily con­cealed and it is very small.

“It is such a com­mon trend,” No­vak said. “We could walk into our bath­rooms at any given time and po­ten­tially find some­one va­p­ing — boys or girls. It is a new cool thing to do. I would guess the ma­jor­ity of the stu­dents have tried it. My con­cern is the stu­dents who are de­vel­op­ing ad­dic­tions, where they are do­ing

it on an hourly ba­sis. I worry about the ones who are be­com­ing grossly ad­dicted to it. I would be will­ing to bet the kids are do­ing it un­der their par­ents’ noses and their par­ents don’t know. Par­ents might eas­ily mis­take (the de­vice) for a key fob or flash drive. It is al­most like they are made so kids can eas­ily hide it.”

Those con­cerns are why the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­fronting the is­sue of elec­tronic nico­tine de­liv­ery sys­tems by teens. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol’s 2018 Na­tional Youth To­bacco Sur­vey re­vealed that more than 3.6 mil­lion youths un­der the age of 18 are us­ing e-cig­a­rettes in 2018 — 1.5 mil­lion more than in 2017. That’s about 1 in 5 high school­ers and 1 in 20 mid­dle school­ers, with about 570,000 chil­dren, some as young as 12, in mid­dle school, the study said.

The FDA has set a pub­lic hear­ing for Dec. 5 in Sil­ver Spring, Md., about “Elim­i­nat­ing Youth Elec­tronic Cig­a­rette Use: The Role for Drug Ther­a­pies.”

FDA Com­mis­sioner Scott Got­tlieb has called crit­i­cal at­ten­tion to the lure of fla­vored vape to youth­ful users, but said he will re­frain from re­stric­tions on to­bacco, men­thol and mint fla­vors for now be­cause of their im­por­tance to adult users. He pro­poses to ban men­thol in tra­di­tional cig­a­rettes and ban fla­vors in tra­di­tional cigars due to their ap­peal to young smok­ers.

Got­tlieb said the FDA sent let­ters in Septem­ber to the mak­ers of Juul, Vuse, MarkTen, blu and Logic, which com­pose nearly 100 per­cent of the mar­ket for closed-sys­tem e-cig­a­rette prod­ucts that use pre­filled pods or tanks. Each com­pany was asked to sub­mit plans for how they would ad­dress the wide­spread use of their prod­ucts by youths. In Oc­to­ber, the com­pa­nies met with the FDA and ac­knowl­edged the pub­lic health is­sues around the ap­peal of fla­vored e-cig­a­rette prod­ucts to kids and adults try­ing to quit smok­ing.

Wil­liam Or­tiz Jr., 30, of Portage, was with Fer­rell at Vapin N Portage. He said he smoked for about 11 years un­til he started va­p­ing four years ago.

“I started at 12 mg and I’m down to 6 mg,” Or­tiz said.

Wally Stotts, and his wife, Donna, own the adults-only Portage shop and its three sis­ter shops, Vapin N Valpo, Vapin N Valpo II and Vapin N Ho­bart. He said he smoked com­bustible cig­a­rettes for 35 years be­fore he started va­p­ing.

“Ev­ery flavor gives you that op­tion to go down to zero nico­tine,” Stotts said. “There’s not too much nico­tine in mine.”

Vape or e-cig­a­rettes de­vices are bat­tery-op­er­ated and use liq­uid, typ­i­cally in­clud­ing nico­tine. The de­vice heats the liq­uid to an aerosol re­ferred to as va­por. The ex­pelled va­por looks much like the smoke ex­haled with cig­a­rettes, cigars or pipes.

The liq­uid — some­times re­ferred to as juice — comes in a plethora of fla­vors from reg­u­lar or men­thol to mango, melon, mint or other vari­a­tions. Ev­ery brand has its own vari­a­tions.

Juul Labs vol­un­tar­ily stopped re­tail dis­tri­bu­tion of its mango, fruit, cream and cu­cum­ber pods in an ac­knowl­edg­ment of youth e-cig­a­rette us­age, com­pany CEO Kevin Burns said on its web­site. They will only be avail­able on its own se­cure web­site to those age 21 or older.

“To para­phrase Com­mis­sioner Got­tlieb, we want to be the off-ramp for adult smok­ers to switch from cig­a­rettes, not an on-ramp for Amer­ica’s youth to ini­ti­ate on nico­tine. We won’t be suc­cess­ful in our mis­sion to serve adult smok­ers if we don’t nar­row the on-ramp,” Burns writes on the Juul web­site.

In North­west In­di­ana, e-cig­a­rette de­vices, liq­uids and pods are avail­able in a va­ri­ety of re­tail set­tings from adults-only stores like the Vapin stores to con­ve­nience stores and gas sta­tions.

“The most im­por­tant thing is to pre­vent youth ac­cess,” said Max Burkett, gen­eral man­ager of the Vapin N Portage and its three sis­ter shops. He trains all new em­ploy­ees on how to han­dle age ver­i­fi­ca­tion. Mi­nors will not be per­mit­ted in­side, even with an adult.

“I feel very strongly about ver­i­fy­ing ages and we ver­ify (cus­tomers) as quick as we can (as they walk in the door),” Burkett said.

Vapin N and Fam­ily Ex­press stores and other re­tail­ers sport “WE Card” door stick­ers from the In­di­ana Coali­tion for Re­spon­si­ble To­bacco Retailing to alert shop­pers their IDs will be checked be­fore pur­chases of al­co­hol, eci­garettes, liq­uid nico­tine and other to­bacco prod­ucts.

“Our com­pany has a zero tol­er­ance for an em­ployee sell­ing an adult-only prod­uct to a mi­nor,” said Gus Olym­pidis, pres­i­dent and CEO of Fam­ily Ex­press.

Olym­pidis said he has long­time sup­port of the WE Card pro­gram. “We think that is a very im­por­tant com­po­nent of so­ci­etal re­spon­si­bil­ity when you are a re­tailer.”

Olym­pidis ex­pressed con­cern that the same reg­u­la­tions that pre­vent kids from ob­tain­ing prod­ucts might dis­cour­age adults from quit­ting smok­ing.

“I don’t par­tic­u­larly feel that in any way the re­tail com­mu­nity at this point has a gripe,” Olym­pidis said. “What I’m con­cerned about is that there is an or­ches­trated at­tempt to reg­u­late prod­ucts that are part of the so­lu­tion.”

Mean­while, re­tail­ers and smok­ers await new reg­u­la­tions.

“We will do what­ever the reg­u­la­tory agen­cies tell us to do,” Olym­pidis said. There are mul­ti­ple sto­ries about what they may re­quire us to do. The mov­ing of some of these prod­ucts be­hind plain view, for ex­am­ple. No reg­u­la­tory de­mand has come upon us with suf­fi­cient clar­ity for us to re­act. What­ever that call is, we will meet. Cig­a­rettes have been proven be­yond rea­son­able doubt to cause some hor­rific health prob­lems.”

Fer­rell said she feels a lot bet­ter since she switched to e-cig­a­rettes.

“Food tastes dif­fer­ent,” she said. “And cig­a­rettes are so gross (to me) now.”

Nancy Coltun Web­ster is a free­lance re­porter for the Post-Tri­bune.

KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRI­BUNE

Portage res­i­dent Leanne Fer­rell tries out a flavor of e-liq­uid at Vapin N Portage. She says va­p­ing helped her quit smok­ing.

KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRI­BUNE

Vapin N Portage gen­eral man­ager Max Burkett stands in front of shelves of e-liq­uid. He says he trains em­ploy­ees on how to han­dle age ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

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