Vets students learn dangers of e-cigs, vaping
Warwick Vets doesn’t want its middle school students to be future members of “vape nation.” That’s why they brought in David Neill from the U.S. Attorney’s office on Wednesday morning to educate the students on the dangers of electronic (e-) cigarettes and vaporizers.
School resource officer Al Melucci said that there aren’t many issues that he’s seen at Vets or anywhere on the middle school level when it comes to vaping on school premises. It ramps up a lot at the high school level, however, and he said that “education is the best tool to combating” the issue.
“Vaping is everywhere now,” assistant principal Allison Nascenzi said. “We had an issue with a few of our students.”
She said that vaping has just emerged recently and, although the issues have been few at the school, Vets is trying to get ahead of it in their school.
To deal with those students found with vape pens, she gave them an assignment to look up the effects of vaping, including “popcorn lung,” and the students came back horrified. That’s part of the reason the school wanted to bring Neill in to talk to both the eighth and seventh grade students.
E-cigarettes and vape pens have emerged recently as battery-powered liquid vaporizers that simulate the act of smoking without the burning of tobacco. They are often flavored to enhance taste, as Neill said that over 7,000 flavor varieties were available the last time he checked. They can be purchased both in stores and online, although Rhode Island requires you to be 18 to buy one.
“The perception with vaping is that it’s harmless,” said student assistance counselor Pamela Grasso. “The kids really believe that it causes no harm whatsoever. I hear kids saying ‘what’s the matter with vaping, my parents do it.’ Both adults and kids need to be educated on this. And at this age, kids are beginning to be exposed to more substances, and vaping is certainly one of them.”
During the presentation, Neill showed statistics from a 2015 Center for Disease Control report that showed the use of e-cigarettes tripling from 2013 to 2014 and continuing to rise.
Neill’s background comes from 25 years with the Rhode Island state police, most of which were spent in narcotics investigation, and the last six years as an investigator in the attorney’s office. This is the second year that he’s been going into schools around the state to give this vaping presentation.
Neill focused the presentation on three themes: the health risks of e-cigarettes, the money behind them, and the advertising of vaping, which he compared to cigarette advertising from around 70 years ago.
The health risks, he told the hundreds of students, come in the ingredients of e-cigarettes, which aren’t always understood by vapers. He said that they create formaldehyde, a carcinogen, which vaporizers burn at a very high heat during inhalation. He also said that some vapes contain nicotine, even if it is tobacco-free, so they’re addictive.
“‘Popcorn lung’ disease,” he said, comes from the toxic chemical compound Diacetyl found in vape juice that is extremely harmful to the lungs when inhaled. It is a flavor additive that is fine to eat, like in microwave popcorn, but can lead to lung diseases when vaporized and inhaled in an e-cigarette. He showed the students a graphic picture of a healthy lung and a blackened lung after inhaling Diacetyl.
He compounded on the detrimental health effects of vapes by talking about marijuana. He said the drug can be used for medicinal purposes, but that THC, which is in marijuana, can be harmful, referencing an example of a high school student trying to kill himself because after consuming THC.
“There are no advertisements that say you should do them [e-cigarettes] for good health,” he told the students.
The advertisements for the e-cigarettes now, of which he gave the example of the vape that looks like an inhaler, are geared towards young people, especially middle and high school students. He likened the advertisements to the “Joe Camel” cigarette advertisements in the 1960s to get people to buy cigarettes.
He also pointed out that the United States is one of only two (New Zealand) countries in the world to allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise on television and that our culture promotes the use of products like e-cigarettes.
According to a February Huffington Post report, global e-cigarette sales amount to about $5 billion a year. Neill repeatedly told the students that the whole vaping craze is merely because of companies wanting to make a profit off of kids.
Neill gave the students a proposition by showing them two pictures of the same dog, one in which the dog is peaceful and one in which it was snarling. He said that the students had the choice to work hard, make good decisions, and be the happy dog.
Although he was clearly guiding the students to choose not to partake in vaping, he did say this:
“I’m not going to tell you what to do. You can decide that for yourself.”
Assistance counselor Grasso agreed with this.
“We work really hard to make sure they have the appropriate information to decide if this is what they want to do or not,” she said. “Kids really believe that vaping is not harmful, so you do things based on what you think is true. Social norms say that if you think it’s expected, you do it.”
Vets wanted to not only address the issue of middle schoolers partaking in vaping, but get to it before the high school level by giving the correct information to the young students at a formative time in their lives, which is why the school brought in Neill to speak with the students about the dangers of the growing activity.