Panel aimed to educate on electronic smoking devices, strategies to combat usage

(Feb. 7, 2020) The Worcester County Health Department and Stephen Decatur High School teamed up to tackle vaping with a community forum at the Stephen Decatur High School auditorium on Tuesday. The goal of the night was to educate parents on vaping products and how to combat student usage. 

In 2016, 26 percent of high school-aged individuals in Worcester used electric smoking devices, in comparison to 13.3 percent of the same individuals in Maryland, according to data from the health department. 

Crystal Bell, the chronic disease and tobacco supervisor for the health department, began the presentation by running through the popular electronic products. Some of these include Kandypens, the JUUL device, Suorin Air, MLV Phix and Puff Bars, which is gaining popularity since it requires no refill or charging system. 

Bell said these devices are also called electronic nicotine delivery systems, electronic smoking devices, e-cigarettes, vapes, pods, mods or JUULs. 

 “You’ll notice that the make-up of these devices is the same,” Bell said. “They may look different, but they all comprise of the same components like a mouthpiece, a microprocessor and a battery.” 

She said it’s important to keep on top of the various devices because they have evolved from disposable e-cigarettes, to medium tank devices and pens, to larger tanks and pods. The JUUL devices are particularly dangerous because using one pod for the device is the equivalent to smoking one full pack of cigarettes, according to Bell, and some users go through three to four pods a day. 

“The biggest thing to know is that the user is able to get such a hard hit and a huge buzz from these devices because they are made up of nicotine salts,” Bell said, “which means that the device has lower alkalinity levels, which means the user is able to get a stronger hit form these particular devices.” 

She added that the product marketing is also dangerous. They are easily purchased online because there are no strong age verifications.

“A lot of youth think these devices are harmless because they’re being marketed as harmless devices because of the flavorings,” Bell said. “They’re packaging them to look like candy items, food items.” 

Alyssa Rink, tobacco program coordinator, agreed. 

“It might be the flavor that draws them in, but it’s the nicotine that keeps them coming back,” Rink said. 

She noted that the products harm the memory, attention and learning parts of the brain. 

To combat the issue, Rink encouraged parents to learn about how some students might be hiding the vaping products. Many are designed to look like flash drives, White Out, or pens, and one can even be hidden inside a watch. 

Rink added that the products are banned on school grounds and if students are caught with one, they are referred to an alternative suspension through the health department. To complete the sessions, the students are required to turn in homework assignments concerning the dangers of vaping. 

“This holds the students accountable,” Rink said. “They have to actually go home and do something in order to get the participation for this. They’re not just sitting through, they have to actually learn something from it.”  

She also mentioned the Tobacco 21 law, which prohibits people under the age of 21 from buying tobacco products. 

The forum was not as well attended as school officials hoped, with two attendees at the 5 p.m. session and a couple at the six p.m. session. Thomas Sites, principal of Stephen Decatur High School, thought one of the reasons for the low attendance was that the forum was on the same night as the $1 Taco Night event, which school officials had originally hoped would attract parents to attend the vaping forum.

“We want to provide evening events like this for our community to come out and learn about the dangers of vapes and the dangers of e-cigarettes and trying to help them educate the parents as to what they’re looking at,” Sites said. “I would hope in the future that we can have better attendance.” 

Even with low attendance, Sites said that the school’s vaping task force will continue and move toward speaking with the intermediate and middle schools next. 

“We want opportunities for our younger kids to learn about the dangers of vaping and what it can do to you before they can even get to the high school,” Sites said. 

Those who want to quit can text “Ditch JUUL” to 88709.

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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