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SMITHFIELD — Teen vaping has become a major health concern in Johnston County.
An E-cigarette is a handheld electronic device that simulates the experience of smoking a cigarette. It works by heating a liquid that generates an aerosol, or “vapor,” that users inhale.
Kimetha Fulwood, health education supervisor for the Johnston County Public Health Department, is taking the message to Johnston County Public Schools.
“Whenever we talk to the adult population, it’s an awareness conversation,” said Fulwood. “We use a Tox Box use to educate adults only. It has examples of electronic vaping products.”
Fulwood said electronic vaping products don’t look like traditional cigarettes.
“Some of these devices resemble flash drives,” said Fulwood. “They charge them by using a USB drive on their computer. “
Fulwood said many teen vape users are ordering the products online.
“A lot of the websites require the purchaser to click age 18 or older, but there’s no real age verification,” said Fulwood. Health advocates say fruit-flavored vape juices and the way the devices are marketed targets teenagers.
“There are 15,000 different flavors that can be purchased, including gummy worms, gummy bears, cookies,” Fulwood said. “The colors of the packaging are bright primary colors. They’ve been told it’s just a water vapor.”
At convenience stores and tobacco shops, e-cigarette customers are supposed to be carded to ensure they’re 18 or older.
“But what’s to prevent a 19-year-old high school student from purchasing them for underage youth?” said Fulwood. “Vaping is happening now in our middle schools.”
Lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, have proposed raising the age for tobacco and nicotine sales from 18 to 21 nationwide. Twelve states, including Virginia, have increased the minimum purchase age to 21, and Walmart announced last week it would no longer sell products containing nicotine to buyers under 21 beginning July 1.
“Although traditional cigarette smoking is on the decline, electronic cigarette use is on the rise,” said Jessica Jones, substance abuse prevention specialist at the Poe Center for Health Education in Raleigh. “Testing on long-term effects is still being conducted, however, we know e-cigarettes aren’t safe.”
Jones said they contain cancerous materials and are harmful to the brain.
“Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the same addictive drug found in traditional cigarettes,” said Jones. “The devices can also be used to deliver other drugs such as marijuana.”
Like traditional tobacco products, Johnston County Public School policy prohibits the possession, display or use of any e-cigarette product on school property.
The district’s policy states, “This includes school vehicles, or while participating in school-sponsored events. This restriction applies on all school system property and at all times, even when the individual is on the school grounds as a visitor or spectator.”
For a first student offense, the product will be confiscated. Parents or guardians will be notified and the student will receive disciplinary action as determined by the principal.
Second-time offenders may receive a maximum of a three-day suspension. Third-time offenders may receive a maximum of a five-day suspension. For those who violate the policy four or more times, they may receive up to a 10-day suspension per offense.
Fulwood said e-cigarettes are still the most commonly used tobacco product.
“They are ahead of cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah and pipes,” said Fulwood. “E-cigarettes are the most commonly used product in combination with other tobacco products.
Fulwood said studies show e-cigarette use is highest for boys, whites and high school students.
“In addition to nicotine, e-cigarettes contain ultrafine particles, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, said Fulwood. “Teens who never smoked and use E-cigarettes for at least one year are eight times more likely to progress to cigarette smoking.”
Another danger, said Fulwood, is that e-cigarettes aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“You don’t know for certain what you’re getting,” said Fulwood. “The label may contain no information or misleading information regarding the amount of nicotine that’s present.”
With an e-cigarette, said Fulwood, users inhale aerosol that allows chemicals like nicotine to be suspended in the air. There’s no water in an e-cigarette.
Some of the chemicals found in e-cigarettes can be found in antifreeze, nail polish remover, paints, pesticides, embalming and fireworks, said Fulwood.
Fulwood said there’s a program called QuitlineNC that’s free to all North Carolina residents.
“It’s an evidence-based telephone tobacco treatment service,” said Fulwood. “It consists of four treatment sessions led by trained professional quit coaches. It’s accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be integrated with an interactive web-based tobacco treatment program.”
For more information on QuitlineNC, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).
Also, the Poe Center for Health Education’s #YouthCulture offers a Vaping 101 program.
Jones said parents can download “Talk with Your Teens About E-Cigarettes: A Tip Sheet for Parents” provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health.