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VIDEO: Vaping in the Classroom

One of the challenges of being a public high school teacher is developing a constant awareness of what is transpiring in my classroom. Even when I conference individually with my student, my eyes and ears are open in a hyper-observant manner that I have cultivated over decades.

Of course, times change, and over those decades, what I’ve needed to pay attention to has evolved– including smoking, it seems.

Now, there’s vaping.

I saw a commercial for vaping in which the advertiser stated that vaping is meant to help smokers who are trying to quit.

Nice try.

As that advertiser was speaking, I was hearing my own high-school-classroom, overlay script:

Vaping makes it easier for teenagers to access nicotine without being detected. Why, they can even vape during class, and many teachers would not even realize it because it would not occur to them to even consider that it could. Oh, yet, and that means we will make a load of money off of teens even as we promote the idea that Smoking Is Bad for Your Health.

Vaping in class– during class! I learned that this was possible only months ago. And part of the problem for many school districts is that they may not have adjusted their smoking policies to include vaping. As any student caught vaping would likely (and quickly) point out, a vape is not a cigarette. That is true. Vaping involves inhaling vaporized nicotine, and the exhale is not nearly as noticeable as that of a cigarette.

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Vaping in class. (Youtube, 2016)

What complicates detection is that the vaping instrument may look like a flash drive to the untrained eye. (The vaping device may be longer than a flash drive, but not always, I have learned.)

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A Juul brand vape. (Time)
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Juul vaping device charging via USB port (looking like an elongated flash drive) (EdWeek)
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Juul USB port charger (EdWeek)
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One Juul pod has the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes (EdWeek) and lasts for about 200 puffs (TIME)

According to coverage in a March 2018 article on vaping in TIME, the teen appeal was not part of intentional marketing:

Ashley Gould, chief administrative officer at Juul Labs, says that the product was created by two former smokers specifically and solely to help adult smokers quit, and that the company has numerous anti-youth-use initiatives in place because “we really don’t want kids using our product.” Gould also notes that Juul uses age authentication systems to sell only to adults 21 and older online, though most of its sales take place in retail stores, where state laws may allow anyone 18 and older to purchase the devices.

The design, she adds, was not meant to make the device easier to hide.

“It was absolutely not made to look like a USB port. It was absolutely not made to look discreet, for kids to hide them in school,” Gould says. “It was made to not look like a cigarette, because when smokers stop they don’t want to be reminded of cigarettes.” …

Does Juuling help you quit smoking?

It’s not yet clear. Gould acknowledges that Juul doesn’t have great end-user data since its products are mostly sold in retail stores, but she says the company is actively researching the effectiveness of its devices.

Research about the efficacy of nicotine replacement therapy using tools such as e-cigarettes and nicotine gum is relatively inconclusive. A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine even found that smokers trying to quit may actually have less success if they use e-cigarettes.

Even so, both the vape device and the vape action are easy to hide in plain sight in the public school classroom– all the more reason for school admin, teachers, and staff to educate themselves on the issue.

On July 31, 2018, EdWeek published the following video on vaping (also known as “Juuling,” derived from a brand name, Juul):

Regarding the long-term effects of vaping, not much is known yet because vaping is still relatively new. That noted, common sense dictates that vaping is problematic because nicotine is addictive, and the young person vaping is opening the door to chemical addiction by repeatedly inhaling concentrated nicotine and may well be damaging or otherwise impeding healthy growth and development.

Regarding the effects of vaping, the March 2018 TIME article offers the following:

While e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic substances than traditional cigarettes, the CDC warns that vaping may still expose people to cancer-causing chemicals. (Different brands use different formulations, and the CDC’s warning did not mention Juul specifically.)

It’s not clear exactly how e-cigarettes affect health because there’s little long-term data on the topic, says Dr. Michael Ong, an associate professor of general internal medicine and health services at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. “We just don’t have a lot of information as to what the harms potentially are going to be,” he says. “There likely would be health risks associated with it, though they’re not going to be the same as a traditional cigarette.”

Doctors do know, however, that each Juul pod contains nicotine equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. That’s troubling, because nicotine is “one of the most addicting substances that we know of,” Ong says. “Having access to that is certainly problematic,” Ong adds, because it may get kids hooked, which could potentially lead them to later take up cigarettes.

Juul’s products come in flavors including mango, fruit medley and creme brûlée — and the chemicals used to flavor vaping liquid may also be dangerous, Ong adds. “Even if the manufacturer doesn’t intend it to be something that’s kid-friendly, it’s kid-friendly,” he says. A 2016 study suggested that these flavoring agents may also cause popcorn lung, a respiratory condition first seen in people working in factories that make microwave popcorn.

There we have it teachers: Vape Detection 101.

Watch out for those flash drives.

EDITORS NOTE: This column with images by deutsch29 is republished with permission. The featured photo is by Cianna Jolie on Unsplash.