Bob Collett from the Cape Cod Regional Tobacco Control Program had some good news and bad news for high school parents at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). “Cigarettes aren’t a problem anymore,” Mr. Collett said to a group of about 30 people gathered in the library Wednesday evening. “But these,” he said, holding up a small, sleek, pen-like product, “aren’t these cool?”
Vape pens and e-cigarettes are the latest trend among teens across the nation. The e-cigarette brand Juul is especially popular. It has a smooth and discreet design, and looks like a thumb drive you’d plug into your computer.
Because they’re so easy to conceal, students are using them in classrooms and in bathrooms. When inhaled, most e-cigs leave barely a trace, barely a scent, and the small cloud of vapor disappears in seconds.
“My daughter is really bothered by it,” a mother of a freshman at MVRHS told The Times. “She’s in AP classes, and kids are doing it right in class.”
“I don’t even think my kids know what it is,” another mother at the forum said. “But if he’s ever given the choice, I want him to know what he’s being asked.”
The high school is focused on educating parents and students about the recent uptick in the vape trend. That’s why they called Mr. Collett to present to teachers and faculty Wednesday afternoon, and to parents Wednesday evening. “This is the first school that’s asked me to come speak,” Mr. Collett said. “This is how recently it’s exploded. Vaping has become a really serious problem in the last year.”
Principal Sara Dingley said the problem became apparent in the high school last winter. “Kids were leaving classes frequently and congregating in bathrooms,” Ms. Dingley said in a phone conversation with The Times. “It was suspicious. We started to address it in January.”
According to Ms. Dingley, the high school requires students to use passes when they leave the classroom. If caught with paraphernalia, it’s a three- to five-day out-of-school suspension. “We’ve probably had eight to 10 incidences where we’ve had to take disciplinary action as a result of possession or seeing them do it,” Ms. Dingley said.
Vape pens and e-cigs were introduced to the market as a way for smokers to quit smoking. But they’ve introduced a fresh set of risks that have yet to be thoroughly studied by the FDA. Just because they’re safer doesn’t mean they’re safe, according to Mr. Collett.
The popular Juul vape pen costs about $40 and requires pods that come in packs of four. Each pod contains 50 milligrams of nicotine, which equals one pack of cigarettes, or 200 puffs. They also come in a number of teen-targeted flavors like cool mint and crème brûleé. Pod packs cost about $15, and according to Juul’s website, customers are limited to 15 pod packs per month.
Vape pens can be just as addictive as cigarettes, but they are safer. Cigarettes contain tar, which is the combusted particle produced by the burning of tobacco. Tar contains up to 5,000 potentially harmful and carcinogenic substances, and that’s what kills people, according to Mr. Collett.
The education element is crucial going forward.
“It’s a tough one, because there’s little research to support it,” Ms. Dingley said. “There are two angles we can go about educating kids. One is informing them of the manipulation of big tobacco products. Kids are usually interested in habit-forming pathways, so we’re looking at what sort of health implications are out there, and studies that we can share with students. The other thing we’d like to educate students on is its consequences. When you get caught, it affects your record.”
Mr. Collett said it’s important for parents to have honest and open conversations with their kids.
“Don’t beat down on them,” he said. “But keep an eye out. These things are not safe, and that’s the message you need to get across.”