More than a quarter of San Diego County high school students have tried vaping, and experts warn teenage vaping is erasing decades of smoking prevention gains.
“We have come so far in reducing the use of traditional cigarettes, it is a battle that we think we are fighting after all these years of decreasing the number of cigarettes,” said Jim Crittenden, program specialist. County. Office of Education, which works on smoking prevention.
“The problem is, companies are using the same tactics as cigarettes used 30 years ago, marketing to kids, using billboards, and targeting products.”
According to data from the 2018-19 California Healthy Kids Survey, an anonymous school safety survey administered every two years, only 2% of grade 11 students in the county report using cigarettes routinely, but 13 % vape regularly. While 8 percent of grade 11 students in San Diego have tried cigarettes, more than three times as many – 26 percent – have tried vaping, according to the survey.
With flavors such as mango or chewing gum and compact devices, vaping products have built-in appeal for teens.
“Personally, I don’t and I try to stay away because I do track and field,” a 15-year-old boy in grade 10 at San Marcos High School said last week. “But I’ve seen teammates do it, classmates do it, and people younger than high school age vaping. People do it in bathrooms, stairwells and in classrooms. They do it through hoodies.
Authorities are trying to crack down on the products amid recent news of vaping-related illnesses and deaths, and note that many of those sickened by the products are teenagers and young adults.
“This is a huge problem that we see every day in Escondido,” said Mary Anne Dijak, program manager for violence prevention and intervention services at Escondido Education Compact, which offers prevention programs. drug addiction. “I’m sure they see it all over the county.”
Since September 26, there have been 22 cases of lung injury associated with vaping among residents of San Diego County, county supervisors Dianne Jacob and Nathan Fletcher said in a statement calling for a ban on the sale of products. flavored tobacco and a moratorium on vaping. devices.
Of those cases, nearly two-thirds are between 18 and 24, and 16% are under 18, officials said.
“Big tobacco prays for our children, and we have an obligation to protect our children and public health,” they said.
High school students say it’s common to see peers vaping off campus and even on school grounds, where they hide the practice in secluded spaces or behind clothing.
“A lot of people throw big clouds in the bathroom,” said a 14-year-old boy in ninth grade at San Marcos High. “They do it because of the popularity and then the flavor.”
With devices designed to look like USB sticks, pens, or lipstick tubes, vaping products are easy to hide. The Juul vaporizer, with the highest share in the vaping market, is a 3.5 inch thin metal stick.
“They look harmless because they don’t alert anyone,” Dijak said. “The doesn’t look like paraphernalia. “
The clandestine aspect of the activity may be part of its appeal; teens say some classmates seem to enjoy the chance to vape in unlikely places.
“Once at the theater, I climbed a ladder to where a projector was and saw two kids vaping,” said a 15-year-old girl, also in grade 10 at San Marcos High.
While most teen vaping involves nicotine products, marijuana vaping is on the rise among high school students, Crittenden said. About 15 percent of Grade 11 students say they use marijuana on a regular basis, and of these, 17 percent inhale it using vaping devices. This is a dramatic increase from just 1% two years ago, he said.
This is particularly troubling given the potency of marijuana vaping products and the possible role of THC – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – in incidents of death or illness related to vaping. Dijak said she had not seen respiratory injuries related to vaping marijuana, but had often dealt with students who inhaled toxic doses of chemicals.
“They are sick, they pass out, their hearts are racing, they have severe headaches,” she said of the teenagers who were admitted to local emergency rooms under these conditions. “They classify it as marijuana poisoning.”
As obnoxious as they may sound, these uplifting tales don’t seem to dampen teenage interest in the trend, Crittenden said.
“So far, they still don’t see it as dangerous,” he said. “The perception of harm is really low. “
According to the state’s education code, all schools must have anti-smoking policies, he said, and local school officials say they are strengthening education and enforcement in the light of the increase in vaping. This includes classroom presentations, interventions for children caught vaping, and smoking cessation programs to help them break the habit.
The Carlsbad Unified School District gives presentations on the risks of vaping to all sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth graders with the goal of keeping them away from vaping, as well as presentations to parents on what to watch out for, said Megan Arias, district high school principal.
“We’ve actually been trying to differentiate ourselves for a while,” she said. “We started three years ago with our student vaping presentations. “
The district has hired another school resources manager to deal with tobacco and vaping, and is sharing the cost of that post with the city, she said. He also joined a San Diego Crimestoppers sponsored program where students can anonymously report peers who are vaping. If a report is validated, the student who submitted it receives a monetary reward, she said.
Students caught vaping on campus should meet with the school manager, parents, and a school administrator and take a lesson on the dangers of vaping. Multiple offenders must attend an after-school class on the issue, she said.
“Our goal is to spread awareness of the educational element and to really keep our students safe and healthy,” Arias said.
In the Escondido Union High School school district, students are learning the dangers of vaping through the district health program, and school vaping posters reinforce those lessons, district spokesperson Harry Katcher said. Students caught with vape pens or other devices should participate in the district’s “Prevention and Diversion” program, where they receive counseling and counseling.
All vaping devices found on campus are subject to police testing for illegal substances, he said. If the vape pens contain tobacco, students are assigned to a tobacco education class on Saturday.
The County Office of Education recommends an online toolkit for smoking prevention offered by Stanford University and the California Smoker’s Helpline, Crittenden said.
The county office offers short-term intervention programs for teens, to help them understand the risks of vaping and take action to quit, he said. And they run “Friday Night Live” events to train peer mentors to harness the power of peer pressure – often a factor in which kids start vaping – to discourage use.
Although the 26% of teens who have tried vaping are too high a number, Crittenden said the remaining three-quarters of students can influence their classmates to quit.
“We hear about children using it, and it’s alarming, but the norm is that most children don’t use it,” he said.