As most know, vaping is a nationwide epidemic. In New York State, vaping or e-cigarette use among high school students spiked in just four years, from 10.5% in 2014 to 27.4% in 2018. This past spring, some schools in Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie Counties observed 80-90% of their high school students vaping. More worrisome is how often youth vape. The 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 2.55 million youth used e-cigarettes, with 44% of high school e-cigarette users vaping on 20 or more days a month and 28 percent using e-cigarettes every day. More than 8% of middle school students who vape use e-cigarettes every day.
It has long been argued that it’s the smoke and not the nicotine that kills, but addiction to nicotine, especially during adolescence can cause long-term harm to brain development and respiratory health. Nicotine has been found to impact attention, learning, and memory negatively. The e-liquids in vapes often have high concentrations of nicotine. Juul, one of the largest e-cigarette companies, sells pods which contain 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine.
The first time I ever used an e-cigarette I was in line at a bar. I remember the stark contrast of the humid evening to the deep cool inhale of mint flavor that effortlessly filled my lungs. The rush to my head after I exhaled made my knees turn to Jell-O, almost sending me to the ground.
That rush coupled with the social nature of the device fueled my desire to buy my own JUUL. Amidst a vast selection of colorful pods and juices spanning from fruit flavors to your favorite childhood cereals, JUUL stood out as the least intimidating selection as they promoted a starter kit that came with the popular flavors of mint and mango.
I didn’t seem to notice the progression of my reliance on nicotine. I am still not sure if I was unaware or unwilling to admit to myself that the rush I got from vaping while partying with friends had quickly evolved to needing a vape to get through the day. I remember sitting in movie theaters inhaling the aerosol as deep as I could and releasing it into my sweatshirt pulled up to my nose to hide it. I would sneak down into the basement of the building where my internship was to get a hit of nicotine. I even vaped early in the morning at my desk before my coworkers had arrived or as soon as they had gone home. At the time, I did not know that one pod contained as much nicotine as that found in a whole pack of cigarettes.
I was still vaping when I applied for my current position at Tobacco Free Communities Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie.
When I learned that I would be working with teenagers to prevent youth from using tobacco, I knew using the product would be hypocritical. I also began to learn about the tobacco industry’s marketing strategies and tactics to addict youth and young adults to their products quickly and for life. I saw I had done and experienced exactly what the industry had mapped out years ago: getting the euphoric rush from my first hit of highly concentrated nicotine, choosing from numerous sweet e-cig flavors presented like candy in the stores, and using the JUUL starter kit.
The resentment at being manipulated inspired me to quit cold turkey. The first two weeks were excruciating. I had headaches, intense cravings, and a short temper that caused me to flare up at family and friends. Thankfully, I was able to kick my habit, but I still crave nicotine every single day.
The powerful stigma of cigarettes prevented my peers and me from smoking them, but the new vaping products, with sweet flavors veiling their harmful effects, the extreme physical sensation they offered, and the social pressure surrounding them, easily drew us in. TFC-DOS’ youth program “Reality Check” works to educate our communities on the impact the tobacco industry has had on local youth and to prevent youth from initiating tobacco use, whether smoking, vaping or chewing. As Reality Check’s Youth Engagement Coordinator for the tricounty area, I continue to work to elevate local youth’s perspective on tobacco marketing and assist in mobilizing communities to find ways to protect their kids.
Without these sources of inspiration, I would have undoubtedly continued to use e-cigarettes regardless of the consequences. My nicotine addiction and my friends’ continuing use of tobacco products fuels my desire to mobilize communities to protect their youth from this industry.
Christopher Bradley is a youth engagement coordinator at Tobacco Free Communities Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie.
The excitement of a new school year is buzzing around us, along with anxiety about new challenges posed by the more transmissible Delta coronavirus variant. This means public health will continue to be a critical issue nationwide and in our region as we begin welcoming our college students back into our communities and our youth back to school.
Reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke and aerosols emitting from e-cigarette use is a critical — but often overlooked — step toward making our lungs healthier and reducing the likelihood of catching the coronavirus and having severe COVID-19 symptoms. Tobacco use affects every organ of the body, including the immune system.
It is why people who smoke are at high risk of getting coronavirus and developing severe cases.
While the rate of smoking in New York has decreased significantly over the past 20 years, many rural counties continue to have high smoking rates. Based on the newly released 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, Otsego County’s smoking rate is 16.5%, above the state’s average of 12.8%. This high smoking rate and the current increase in COVID cases in Otsego county means reducing tobacco use now is imperative.
Editor’s Note: CCS Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw sent this cautionary letter to parents.
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
Cooperstown Central School District has experienced a sharp increase in “vaping.” This dangerous trend is a common concern in almost all schools nationally. Locally, the most current Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2018) indicates that 44 percent of high school students, grades 9-72, in Otsego County have used vapor products. This is a staggering statistic and evidence for concern.
We plan to increase our efforts to protect our students from the use of e-cigarettes, vape pens, or juuls, which use a liquid solution comprised of nicotine, crystallized marijuana (THC) and other dangerous substances imbued with attractive flavors. Current policy addresses tobacco, nicotine and other substances that are prohibited from use by students in school. Regulation and our Code of Conduct are consistent with policy. However, deep knowledge of vaping by the general public, including parents and caregivers – and all threats associated with it – is either unknown, misunderstood, or misrepresented.
COOPERSTOWN – With “hundreds of thousands” more in required spending on health insurance next year, Cooperstown Central School Superintendent Bill Crankshaw and the school board didn’t need to look for places to spend more.
Besides, he said in an interview about the 2019-20 budget, which goes up for a public vote 7 a.m-8 p.m., next Tuesday, May 21, at the high school, the school district already offers a “rich curriculum” – the goal is to maintain it and look for places to strengthen it.
“We can’t afford to take on any new initiatives for their own sake,” Crankshaw said.