Schools fret as teens take to va­p­ing, even in class­rooms

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Collin Bink­ley

BOS­TON » Sneak­ing a cig­a­rette in the school bath­room? How quaint. To­day’s teens have taken to va­p­ing, an al­ter­na­tive to smok­ing that’s so dis­creet they can do it with­out even leav­ing the class­room.

Health and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials across the coun­try are rais­ing alarms over wide un­der­age use of e-cig­a­rettes and other va­p­ing prod­ucts.

The de­vices heat liq­uid into an in­hal­able va­por that’s sold in sug­ary fla­vors like mango and mint — and of­ten with the ad­dic­tive drug nico­tine. They’re mar­keted to smok­ers as a safer al­ter­na­tive to tra­di­tional cig­a­rettes, but of­fi­cials say they’re mak­ing their way to teens with sur­pris­ing ease.

A new wave of smaller vapes has swept through schools in re­cent months, of­fi­cials say, re­plac­ing bulkier e-cig­a­rettes from the past. It’s now com­mon in some schools to find stu­dents crowded into bath­rooms to vape, or per­form­ing vape tricks in class.

“We’ve seen sig­nif­i­cant in­creases across the stu­dent body,” said Robert Keuther, prin­ci­pal at Marsh­field High School on the south shore of Mas­sachusetts. “This is not some­thing spe­cific to one group of kids. It’s across all of my grades, nine to 12. It’s all stu­dents.”

Va­p­ing de­vices are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to de­tect for schools, of­ten leav­ing be­hind only a quick puff of va­por and a light fruity scent. Stu­dents get away with it in bath­rooms, halls and even class­rooms, where some say they ex­hale the va­por into their shirts.

Al­though buy­ing e-cig­a­rettes is il­le­gal un­der age 18 — and some states have bumped the min­i­mum age to 21 — stu­dents say they can buy them on­line or from older friends. Some say there are dozens avail­able for sale in school hall­ways at any given time.

The rise of teen va­p­ing has sparked con­cern among par­ents, politi­cians and fed­eral health au­thor­i­ties, who on Tues­day an­nounced a na­tion­wide crack­down on un­der­age sales of e-cig­a­rettes.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a warn­ing to retail stores as part of its new op­er­a­tion against il­le­gal sales. It also re­quested mar­ket­ing and de­sign doc­u­ments from the maker of the Juul, a pop­u­lar vape prod­uct that is shaped like a flash drive. The agency says it’s look­ing into whether cer­tain fea­tures are specif­i­cally ap­peal­ing to young peo­ple.

Some schools have been in­un­dated by the Juul, which dis­penses a fla­vored va­por con­tain­ing higher con­cen­tra­tions of nico­tine than to­bacco cig­a­rettes.

The de­vice’s maker says it’s in­tended only for adults try­ing to quit smok­ing. Its web­site aims to block un­der­age cus­tomers, and the com­pany says it sup­ports leg­is­la­tion to raise the min­i­mum age for va­p­ing prod­ucts to 21 na­tion­wide.

But crit­ics say the Juul’s sweet fla­vors and stealthy de­sign seem to be aimed at kids. In an April 18 let­ter to the FDA, a coali­tion of med­i­cal and health groups called for a sus­pen­sion of on­line sales un­til au­thor­i­ties cre­ate stronger rules against un­der­age sales.

Sim­i­lar mea­sures have been backed by school lead­ers in­clud­ing Keuther, who over­sees 1,300 stu­dents south of Bos­ton.

“There’s a rea­son why it’s mar­keted that way,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Juul’s con­ceal­able de­sign. “We wish there was a way to curb that, be­cause the in­dus­try is clearly tar­get­ing younger kids.”

Many schools are push­ing back with ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns against va­p­ing. Health and gym classes fea­ture new lessons on po­ten­tial risks. Teach­ers are be­ing trained on what to look for. Schools are pro­duc­ing on­line videos on the dan­gers of e-cig­a­rettes.

At some schools, va­p­ing penal­ties have been raised to an au­to­matic sus­pen­sion. Sev­eral in New Jersey now re­quire drug tests for of­fend­ers, partly be­cause vapes can dis­pense mar­i­juana.

New York’s Plainedge High School was among the first to in­stall new bath­room sen­sors that can de­tect e-cig­a­rette va­por and im­me­di­ately alert ad­min­is­tra­tors. Few stu­dents have been caught so far, but of­fi­cials say that isn’t a sign of fail­ure.

“The truth of the mat­ter is the kids see it, they know what it is — and it in it­self is a de­ter­rent,” said Ed­ward Salina, su­per­in­ten­dent of Plainedge Pub­lic Schools.

Whether schools’ ef­forts are mak­ing a broader dif­fer­ence has yet to be seen, though. Teen va­p­ing de­creased for the first time in 2016 af­ter rapidly ris­ing for years, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion. Up­dated num­bers are ex­pected in June.

STEVEN SENNE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Wed­nes­day photo, an uniden­ti­fied 15-year-old high school stu­dent uses a va­p­ing de­vice near the school’s cam­pus in Cambridge, Mass. Health and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials across the coun­try are rais­ing alarms over wide un­der­age use of e-cig­a­rettes and...

STEVEN SENNE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Wed­nes­day photo, an uniden­ti­fied 15-year-old high school stu­dent dis­plays a va­p­ing de­vice near the school’s cam­pus in Cambridge, Mass. Schools and health of­fi­cials across the U.S. are strug­gling to curb what they say is an epi­demic of un­der­age...

STEVEN SENNE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The de­vices heat liq­uid into an in­hal­able va­por that’s sold in sug­ary fla­vors like mango and mint, and of­ten with the ad­dic­tive drug nico­tine.

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