The use of e-cigarettes, commonly known as vaping, has been labeled a national epidemic and the Atlanta Jewish community is feeling the heat. Just last week, several Jewish organizations that work with teens, including Jewish day schools and those that counsel about substance abuse, sponsored a parenting program about vaping. The program opened the eyes of those who attended about the rampant availability and stealthy nature of the e-cig devices and the teens that use them.
The event also proved that the Jewish community sees vaping as a serious concern among teens.
“We are saying publicly there is a problem. We can’t pretend this is not happening in our community,” said Kelly Cohen, director of JumpSpark, a teen engagement program, which organized the vaping talk. “So much of vaping is kept hidden. It’s the silence that can be the most damaging.”
The fast-growing popularity of vaping and resulting need to manage it in the schools and among area youth is keeping Jewish educators and counselors on their toes.
“What is just astonishing is that teens don’t know they are introducing addiction into their brains,” said Daniel Epstein, program director of The Berman Center, which provides intensive outpatient programs for mental health and substance abuse. “People struggle and lose their lives over addiction.”
While e-cigs may be an alternative to cigarettes for those who already use them, for young people, they can be a gateway to cigarettes or other more dangerous drugs, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report widely cited by other health organizations, including the American Cancer Society.
“Because addiction is a form of learning, adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs such as cocaine,” the Surgeon General wrote in its 2018 report, “Know the Risks: E-Cigarettes & Young People.”
In the U.S., youth are more likely than adults to use e-cigs. This year, more than 3.6 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigs in the past 30 days, including about 5 percent of middle school students and nearly 21 percent of high school students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s 1.5 million more students using these products over the previous year. E-cigarette use increased 78 percent among high school students from 2017 to 2018, and 48 percent among middle school students, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Although the sale and distribution of vapor products to people under 18 is prohibited, according to Georgia law, it is still readily available online.
A starter kit of the most popular Juul brand of vape includes the device, USB charging dock and four flavored Juul pods with 5 percent nicotine strength. It costs about $50.
Juul and other popular electronic vaping devices heat liquid to produce an odorless, smokeless aerosol or vapor from a canister easily mistaken as a USB flash drive.
Counselors and school officials we interviewed say they are aware of the trends and are trying to be proactive. They see the writing on the bathroom wall, so to speak.
A number of national health organizations have come out with reports about the risk of vaping, which tends to contain highly addictive nicotine that can damage the developing brain and lungs. The vapor also contains propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, which are used to produce theatrical fog and can irritate the lung and airway after concentrated exposure, according to ACS. It also may contain volatile organic compounds, flavoring chemicals and formaldehyde, which can cause cancer.
The subject is so grave and timely that the U.S. FDA is holding public meetings about eliminating e-cigs, vaporizers and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and taking public comments until Jan. 2.
A parent of…
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