Town hall focuses on issue of local vaping

Vaping is an epidemic.

That was the message of the Vaping Town Hall hosted this week by The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL) at Christus Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital. TFL representatives and a panel of community leaders – medical professionals, law enforcement, school officials – and Dillan Patel, student from Barbe High School, discussed prevalent vaping issues and possible solutions and prevention methods.

Vaping involves inhaling and exhaling aerosol produced when using an electric vaping product or cigarette. The use of these products has been marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, but Chrishelle Stipe, senior manager of health promotions, TFL, said that this is not factual.

The e-cigarette aerosol that vaping devices (vapes) create contain lower levels of toxins than cigarette smoke, but the vapes still contain nicotine, ultrafine particles of toxic chemicals and carcinogens. The use of tobacco products by youth is unsafe in any form – smoked, smokeless or electronic, according to the CDC.

Vaping is especially dangerous because the long-term effects of e-cigarette usage are not known. Sr. Cpl. Thomas Clophus, Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Department, explained that we are aware of the dangers of cigarettes because they have been used for hundreds of years. This is not the case for e-cigarettes, which entered the market in 2007.

“If you’re vaping, you’re a guinea pig. … We’ll find out in a hundred years what’ll happen as a result of you vaping.”

Charmaine Anderson with the Imperial Calcasieu Human Service Authority said that like smoking, vaping “affects everything in the body.” They often see children that regularly use vapes (especially those with THC) develop symptoms like depression, anxiety, psychosis and “popcorn lung” – a rare condition that results from damage to the lungs’ small airways.

The marketing of vapes is tailored to children and young adults, and features bright colors and sweet, fruity flavors, Stipe said. Additionally, there are many e-cigarettes on the markets that are disguised as everyday objects, like highlighters or USB drives.

“Industry is working hard to hook our kids.”

TFL stated that if smoking continues at it’s current rates, 5.6 million children will “ultimately die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.” In Louisiana, one in five middle schoolers and one and three high school students currently vape. Daniel Bryant, assistant principal, LeBlanc Middle School, said that he believes this statistic is accurate. He called vape usage among youth “pervasive.”

Patel gave his first hand account of his high school experience, and said that many of his peers use vapes out of curiosity, as a social activity or as a way to cope with stress. On campus, vapes are used in-between classes, bathrooms and in other unsupervised locations. Sometimes, students use vapes in class when they are able to hide the action.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes leads to addiction. Lake Charles College Prep Educator and Coach Orenthal Lewis said he has seen the physical toll of vaping addiction on his students daily.

“I have literally seen kids going through withdrawals with vaping because they can’t cope. They’re trying.”

Bryant said that the “lack of vigilance” in parents and older siblings contributes to the number of children using vapes.

“Most of the students I’ve talked to, they begin the process with those older siblings, older cousins, that end up having access. … It’s getting passed down to the next generation because of that laissez-faire attitude.”

Intervention is vital, as he has noticed that many of the students that are caught and talked to stop using vapes, he said.

“They really haven’t had the chance to develop that addiction yet.”

Joshua Campbell, assistant director, Office of Juvenile Justice Services, agreed that education and early intervention is one of the most efficient way to stop vaping in its tracks. He has witnessed firsthand the positive effects of intervention at the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) – a prevention and diversion hub that provides timely resources and support to youth in need.

MARC instituted a voluntary referral process in which families come in for assistance in the case that their child was caught with a vape at school and were given a voluntary referral by administration. After arriving, the students are screened. Through this process, both children and parents become well-informed through honest conversation.

He said that since this process has been used, OJJ has seen a 92 percent success rate with families coming in voluntarily; Out of about 900 referrals, only 91 have come back for a second offense. Less than 10 have visited MARC for a third occurrence.

“Have we cured vaping? No. Are we showing that we can have these kids potentially control it in a school setting better? Yes.”

The panel agreed that the best way to prevent vape usage is by restricting access, and that parents are the first line of defense. Lewis explained that parents need to be aware of the reality of the vaping epidemic to protect their children.

“This is affecting your sons and your daughters tremendously. … It is very, very difficult to parent in this age, but you have to understand that this is real, and it’s not going away. … We have to come together as a collective to do something.”

TFL provides educational material on the vaping risks and prevention. For more information, visit www.tobaccofreeliving.org.

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