Graphic courtesy of CDC

Local schools deal with the issue of vaping

By Debra Moore

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It was initially marketed as a tool to help individuals stop smoking, but now vaping has become its own health concern — particularly among young people.

And Plumas County is not immune from the ramifications of vaping. High school administrators have been forced to lock restroom doors or aggressively monitor them for students who are vaping, and even the elementary schools have dealt with some students using the devices.

Some examples of a vaping tool.

According to the National Institutes of Health, vaping devices are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine (though not always), flavorings, and other chemicals. They can resemble traditional tobacco cigarettes (cig-a-likes), cigars, or pipes, or even everyday items like pens or USB memory sticks. Other devices, such as those with fillable tanks, may look different. Regardless of their design and appearance, these devices generally operate in a similar manner and are made of similar components. More than 460 different e-cigarette brands are currently on the market.

“Yes, vaping is definitely a problem on our campus,” said Portola High School Principal Sara Sheridan. “There are a variety of actions that we are taking to try and stop the behavior.”

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She said the high school has partnered with Plumas County Public Health and its Tobacco Use Reduction Program Coordinator Regina Martinez to bring weekly intervention programs to the campus. “If a student is caught vaping, they are assigned to attend sessions each week at lunch in the library,” Sheridan said. There, they learn about the dangers of vaping and steps they can take to break the habit.

When students are caught vaping, they participate in the six-week program. Martinez said the weekly interventions are being held at Quincy High School as well and she is gearing up to offer them at Chester High School soon. Martinez said her new coworker, Koby Caballero, will also be working with the high school students.

While students learn about the dangers of vaping during these sessions, it’s also to let them know that there is help available since vaping can become addictive. “I tell kids, ‘I care about you; I really want to help you,’” Martinez said.

From 2020 to 2022 vaping among middle-school students rose 200 percent nationwide, while at the high school level it increased 135 percent. This is of a great concern because there are many adverse health effects related to vaping including: the inhalation of nicotine and the aerosol chemicals used; addiction; harmful effects on others including children who have been poisoned by getting the liquid on their skin or in their eyes. (See more details from the CDC below.)

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When a person is vaping, there is an initial feeling of euphoria, followed by a sense of calm. “It hits the bloodstream quickly, but it also goes quickly, making you crave more,” Martinez said. She said that vaping typically happens in a peer setting, and said skate parks have become notorious vaping sites, but also the high school bathrooms.

Sheridan said it’s been a problem for Portola High. “Not only are they vaping, but other students are intimidated and are not able to use the facilities when needed,” she said. “In response, we have put locking door stoppers on all the bathroom doors. Staff then makes frequent stops in to make sure we don’t have groups gathering in the bathroom and stalls.”

The situation is similar at Quincy High School, where at times the restrooms are locked, and students must request to use them.

At Quincy Elementary School, Principal Lara Hollister said the school has averaged one vaping incident a year but none so far this year.

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Melissa Leal, the principal at C. Roy Carmichael in Portola, said that likewise there have been no issues this year, but last year there were a few issues, and the school had the support of law enforcement and the parents. The school is also taking a proactive approach. “Our vice principal is working with our TUPE (Tobacco Use Prevention Education) coordinator this year on vaping awareness with grades five and six in hopes our instances of vaping in elementary school stay low,” she said.

It can be difficult to tell if a student has been vaping because the devices can be very small and there is no nicotine smell. In fact, it’s the aromas and the pleasant taste of many of the vaping products that are a lure for young people. Flavors such as bubble gum, wild berry, and caramel taste good.

Martinez said that some parents might mistake any residual smell that they notice to candy or flavored lip gloss or even a candle in their teen’s room.

In addition to working with students, Martinez educates local businesses about not selling the products to anyone under age 21. She said she has twice taken students to purchase vaping products locally. The first time, six out of 20 retailers sold to underage students, but far fewer did so the second time. Many of the major retailers in the area — Rite Aid, Safeway, Dollar General, Leonard’s and Holiday for example — don’t sell vaping products, but some smaller retailers and many gas stations do sell the products. They can also be purchased online and Martinez said that students can buy Visa gift cards locally, and then in turn, use them for online purchases.

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Martinez and Public Health will continue to work with the schools and families can do their part by watching for the telltale signs of vaping.

Some facts from the CDC

  • The use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.
  • Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.1
  • E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine.
  • Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
  • E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol, or mix of small particles in the air.
  • E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Most have a battery, a heating element, and a place to hold a liquid.
  • Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items. Larger devices such as tank systems, or “mods,” do not look like other tobacco products.
  • E-cigarettes are known by many different names. They are sometimes called “e-cigs,” “e-hookahs,” “mods,” “vape pens,” “vapes,” “tank systems,” and “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).”
  • Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called “vaping.”
  • E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol.
  • The liquid used in e-cigarettes often contains nicotine and flavorings. This liquid is sometimes called “e-juice,” “e-liquid,” “vape juice,” or “vape liquid.”
  • Users inhale e-cigarette aerosol into their lungs. Bystanders can also breathe in this aerosol when the user exhales it into the air.
  • E-cigarette devices can be used to deliver marijuana and other drugs.
  • Scientists are still learning about the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes.
  • Some of the ingredients in e-cigarette aerosol could also be harmful to the lungs in the long-term. For example, some e-cigarette flavorings may be safe to eat but not to inhale because the gut can process more substances than the lungs.1
  • Defective e-cigarette batteries have caused some fires and explosions, a few of which have resulted in serious injuries.
  • Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes. Nationally, approximately 50 percent of calls to poison control centers for e-cigarettes are for kids 5 years of age or younger.