To combat the growing population of teenagers who are vaping or “juuling,” the Howard County Health Department is stepping up its education efforts, mirroring what was done with curbing youth smoking years ago.
The county school system and the nonprofit HC DrugFree are ramping up efforts to educate teenagers about the risks and dangers of vaping. The school system says it is actively looking to revamp how substance abuse issues are addressed with students.
“The good news is we have been over the past few decades successful in educating our youth about cigarette use so I think we can be equally successful in educating them about e-cigarettes,” said Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County health officer.
“We are very concerned about the increase of our Howard County youth who are experimenting with juuling and vaping because research is now showing young people who try or experiment with vaping are more likely to become long-term smokers of nicotine products like cigarettes later on.”
In 2018, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students nationwide were reported using e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 21 percent of high school students and nearly 5 percent of middle schoolers reported using an e-cigarette in a 30-day period in 2018, the CDC found.
Five years ago, 16 percent of Howard County youth were using an electronic smoking device, as reported by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The 2014 percentage is the most recent number the Howard health department has regarding youths and vaping.
An effort to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco to 21 is gaining momentum in Maryland. Legislation to raise the age has floundered in Annapolis for years, but is picking up support this year from the Democratic leaders of the House of Delegates and state Senate, as well as the black caucus.
To teenagers, vaping is “cool, it’s sexy,” and they view it as a way to become popular, said Joan Webb Scornaienchi, executive director of HC DrugFree.
“It’s so popular that now it’s own verb; you are juulling because of the product JUUL,” a vaporizer brand, Scornaienchi said.
A JUUL is a palm-sized vaporizer that is similar in appearance to a USB drive. Smokers inhale the vaporizer, which heats up liquid inside of a fruity nicotine pod, turning it into an aerosol. Pod flavors include cucumber, mango, classic tobacco, Virginia tobacco and mint.
There is no Food and Drug Administration oversight over electronic smoking products, meaning “it could be like smoking a whole pack of cigarettes in 10 minutes,” Rossman said. “People might not know what they are inhaling and I’m not really sure if people know they are inhaling nicotine, which is addictive.”
She said, “We know that the teen brain is more susceptible to addiction, so if you’re using an addictive drug or alcohol at 15 [years old] you are more likely to become [addicted] than at the age of 35.”
Scornaienchi had heard from teenagers through the HC DrugFree Teen Advisory Council that while they don’t smoke cigarettes, they don’t realize they are still inhaling nicotine by vaping.
The teens also said they see advertisements saying vaping and juuling are ways to quit smoking, she added.
“To me the question we want to keep answering [for teens] is we do not believe that juuling and vaping is better than smoking cigarettes … that’s like saying it’s better to drive 100 mph than 110 mph,” Scornaienchi said.
The school system is looking to not only consider substance abuse a discipline issue among students, but also address the health concern with substance use support and counseling, said Kerrie Wagaman, coordinator of health services for Howard schools.
A PowerPoint presentation was sent to school administrators to be shown to all staff members to help them recognize the usage.
“It’s probably happening in your [referring to teachers] class and you don’t necessarily know it,” Wagaman said.
On the youth education side, students in second, third and fifth through ninth grades are taught a substance abuse prevention unit, according to Tempe Beall, an instructional facilitator in the school system’s department of curriculum, instruction and assessment.
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The tobacco units are primarily in sixth and ninth grade; however, this year, seventh- and eighth-grade classes are also covering tobacco because those students did not learn about electronic smoking devices when they were in sixth grade, Beall said.
Vape Dojo opened Howard County's first vape shop in 2012. Since then, a handful of shops have cropped up in the county, operating in an unregulated industry where large-scale research on the effects of e-cigarettes is inconclusive as popularity of the products increases.
The unit covers traditional tobacco and smokeless tobacco as well as electronic smoking, vaping and juuling. Students learn about the short- and long-term effects of smoking and vaping, factors that can influence decision making, skills on how to remain substance abuse free and more.
With vaping becoming more prevalent among teens, the school system is hoping students understand the dangers, make healthy decisions and know how to get out of pressuring situations, Beall said.
The health department has a tobacco awareness program that is offered to students who are found with a nicotine product on school property. The three-hour program talks about the health impacts of using tobacco and offers resources for students.
Individual smoking cessation classes are also available for youth and adults at the health department.