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Central High School Students Learn Danger of Vaping


Rick Boston

Sherri Stayer, executive director of the Lung Disease Foundation of Central Pennsylvania, talks to a group of Central High School students on the dangers of electronic cigarettes.

In 1965, Congress passed a law requiring all cigarette packages sold in the United States to carry a health warning. In 1970, cigarette companies were no longer permitted to advertise their products on television or radio.

Led by the surgeon general, the push was on to change America's view on smoking, shifting away from the glamorous depiction in movies, to the real, often devastating consequences for health.

Statistics have shown that educating the public on the dangers of smoking is succeeding in reducing the number of smokers in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the total number of smokers is down more than 20 percent from a decade ago.

As successful as the campaign to reduce smoking is, it may have created an unintentional consequence by trading one addiction for another in the form of electronic cigarettes, or "vaping."

According to Sherri Stayer, executive director of the Lung Disease Foundation of Central Pennsylvania, electronic cigarettes were first developed as a way for adults to quit smoking, and while they have done that, they are not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Even more alarming, said Stayer, is that teenagers have latched on to vaping, thinking it is safe. Stayer was at Central High School on May 31 to talk to the students about the dangers of vaping by using electronic cigarettes. E-cigarettes are devices that produce an aerosol vapor that the user inhales and then exhales, much like a regular cigarette. These battery-operated devices are easy to hide in plain sight, with some looking like pens and USB devices, making them particularly attractive to high school-age children.

Strayer said the misconception among teen users is that vaping is safer than smoking combustible tobacco. She said these products contain high levels of nicotine and other carcinogens that can lead to lung disease.

"While companies are not claiming that they don't contain nicotine, they are marketing them as being safer than smoking," she said. "They are not safer. There is actually more nicotine in them. They are more addictive, especially to young people whose brains are not fully developed yet."

Stayer said that studies have shown that 33 percent of young people who vape don't know it contains nicotine. Before they realize it, they are addicted.

Stayer said e-cigarette companies such as Juul, which produces more than 7,000 different flavors of vape, are attractive to teens because of the variety of flavors.

"The flavors are fruity flavors and bubble-gum flavors. Things that attract kids," she said. "It has created a new generation of nicotine addicts."

While e-cigarettes are not advertised on television, they are promoted in media that younger people are more likely to view than adults.

"They advertise these products in places like YouTube," she said. "Places where young people are going to go."

Stayer said that the only regulation against e-cigarettes is that a person must be at least 18 years of age to purchase them.

"They are working on regulations to control the amount of flavors to try to keep kids from getting addicted to them, but right now the only regulation is the age restriction," she said.

Stayer said in a lot of cases, parents permit vaping by their children because they think it is safer than smoking.

Central High School Assistant Principal Marissa Cerully said she started seeing e-cigarettes in school when she was with the Hollidaysburg School District.

"This is my first year at Central, but I would say as early as 2014 we were hearing of them coming into school at Hollidaysburg," she said.

Cerully said the possession of e-cigarettes falls under the district's tobacco policy and that if found, they are confiscated and not returned, which can be an expensive lesson.

"They are out the 50 bucks it costs them to purchase it," she said.

Cerully said it can be difficult to catch a student vaping in school, but there are signs and behavior patterns school officials watch for.

"A lot of kids who vape have patterns," she said. "They are the ones who during exchange of classes are running into the bathrooms to vape."

Cerully said that if a student has vaped between classes but is not caught "red handed," it is difficult to notice.

"Unlike cigarettes where you can tell a kid was smoking because you can smell it on them, with vaping they don't carry the odor with them," she said.

Cerully said that this generation of kids is basically the test models for the vaping industry, because they are the ones who will be the first to suffer the long-term effects of this new teen habit.

"These kids need to know that they are the guinea pigs, the long-term study," she said. "Unbeknownst to them what the long-term effects are, sadly, they will be the ones to find out and be able to tell us."


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