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Schools, others work to stem vaping among NH youth

Sunday News Correspondent

February 03. 2018 8:47PM
Alarmed by a surge in nicotine poisonings and the potential for abuse, the FDA is considering rules for the vaping industry, which some say could doom small companies such as Robert Steed's two vaping stores. (FILE PHOTO/Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack describes conventional cigarette smoking among his students as almost "non-existent."

Many people would say that's a reason to celebrate, but there's a different kind of nicotine problem on campus that's getting worse.

The use of electronic cigarettes and vaporizers, commonly known as "vapes," has exploded as students consider them a safe alternative to regular cigarettes.

Public health organizations warn that e-cigarettes are not entirely safe and that young people using them are getting hooked on nicotine and could be more likely to use traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products in the future.

While it's illegal for anyone under 18 to buy vaping devices, like anything else teenagers find a way to get their hands on them.

"Essentially, vaping has replaced cigarettes as the primary way that teens consume nicotine. What makes the problem worse is that vaping often can be done with little to no odor, making it seemingly easier for teens to try to vape in the school," Stack said.

The devices use a liquid that may contain nicotine and other ingredients, including flavorings, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin.

The device works by heating up the liquid, turning it into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user.

Sanborn Regional High School, which serves students in Fremont, Kingston and Newton, issued a letter to parents this week outlining concerns about the growing use of vaping devices and the consequences.

At the urging of school administrators, Sanborn, like many other New Hampshire schools, has cracked down by classifying vaping and other "electronic delivery systems" as a drug offense.

Many schools also classify vaping as a tobacco offense.

Sanborn students caught vaping or possessing a vaping device receive a 10-day suspension for a first offense. The school also notifies police for possible additional action.

"I think vaping, like marijuana, is a gateway to other, more risky behaviors. What concerns me most is that we have a number of teens that try to use either vaping or marijuana to curb anxiety or mask symptoms of other, underlying mental health issues. Our school counselors spend a great deal of time working with students on mental health issues, a great deal more time than they did a decade ago," Stack said.

A 2015 New Hampshire Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that use of e-cigarettes was more than double that of regular cigarettes in all high school grade levels.

The highest use of e-cigarettes was among high school seniors, with 29.9 percent of females and 34.7 percent of males using e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to taking the survey.

Like Stack, Exeter High School Principal Michael Monahan said he's seen a "dramatic rise" in vaping among students. He noted a particular increase in the use of a small device called JUUL, which has pods that contain a high level of nicotine.

"Depending on the nature of the substance involved, it may be classified as drugs or tobacco. The devices are banned on school grounds," he said.

Students are suspended if they're caught possessing and using the devices.

Londonderry High School Principal Jason Parent emailed parents and staff in December to voice concerns about vaping.

Parent said the JUUL device appears to be the most popular among students, but as at other schools, all vaping devices are banned on school grounds and anyone possessing them faces suspension.

"I would say vaping is becoming a more common practice than smoking; at least what we have seen anecdotally. The assumption with these devices are that liquid nicotine is in them; however, there are other vape pens that can contain THC. The substance of both are difficult to ascertain, as most have a fruit smell which masks the actual smell of the drug students are inhaling," Parent said.

Due to the increase in vaping this year, Portsmouth High School has adopted preventive measures aimed at educating students about health hazards and disciplinary consequences, according to Principal Mary Lyons.

The result, she said, has been a downward trend.

Vaping is a violation of the school's non-smoking and tobacco policy rules unless an illegal substance is found in the vape, in which case it would violate the school's drug and alcohol use policy.

In addition to schools, community organizations are also trying to combat the vaping problem.

Charlotte Scott, coordinator of the Southern Rockingham Coalition for Healthy Youth, said "vape juice" manufacturers have created dozens of "kid-friendly flavors" and have found a strong market among teenagers.

"The developing teen brain is less likely to fully comprehend or consider the long-term consequences of ingesting either the nicotine or the oil vapor used for its delivery. There are no studies available yet on the long-term effects of polypropylene glycol accumulation in the lungs, but we do know that nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant drug," she said.

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