E-cigarette use among young people has become an epidemic nationwide, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, and yes, it is happening locally. As a result, parents and community members should learn as much as they can about this topic (learn more here).
Local schools, including Henning, Verndale and Wadena-Deer Creek, haven’t seen an abundance of students using e-cigarettes, but school leaders think it might be happening more than anyone realizes.
“I’ll be honest, we haven’t seen a ton of it happening in the school,” said Tyler Church, WDC principal, “but I’ve been hearing from lots of kids. Kids are pretty good at hiding this kind of thing. They say it’s happening quite a bit.”
“In my opinion, e-cigarettes are such a concern for a few reasons,” said Kody Van Den Eykel, P.E. and health teacher at Verndale Public School. “One reason is that it is hard to determine if students are using them due to the size and also functionality.”
Nick Grabe, school resource officer at WDC, said that many e-cigarette devices are designed to look like pens or USB flash drives and can be easily hidden or disguised.
“They’re so easy to conceal that it’s hard to even know that kids have these things on them unless you’ve been trained on it, unless we teach our staff of what to look for,” Church said. “It’s pretty easy for kids to have them in school. When a kid used to sneak into the locker room to smoke, you could smell it. With an e-cigarette, they can go into the bathroom, and we would have no idea.”
The true dangers are unknown
Mike Rowe, Henning Public School superintendent, believes e-cigarettes are especially dangerous to students because the common thought is that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional smoking.
E-cigarettes are deemed healthier because they do not contain tobacco, which is made up of several harmful substances. However, most e-cigarettes DO contain nicotine, which is one of the harmful, highly addictive substances found in tobacco. E-cigarettes may also contain metals, arsenic, lead or other dangerous substances that are not yet known. Unfortunately, because e-cigarettes are so new, researchers have not had time to conduct in-depth studies.
“I think it’s important to know that due to the newness of these products, the effects are not known,” Van Den Eykel said. “They are unsafe, but how unsafe is yet to be determined.”
Van Den Eykel noted that e-cigarettes are only “healthier” if someone regularly using a traditional tobacco product switches to them. If a student who is not a smoker begins using e-cigarettes, they introduce a new harmful habit that could lead to more dangerous tobacco or drug use, especially if they begin at a young age.
“We have taken e-cigarettes off of seventh graders,” Church said. “So if we’re already having kids in the seventh and eighth grade range, I’m afraid that leads to pot or other drugs before they’re out of high school. We need to stress how serious this is.”
Taking the initiative
With the product being so new, knowing as much as possible about e-cigarettes is key to stopping the epidemic. Schools across the area have stepped up and taken the initiative.
Verndale Public School recently gave a presentation to staff, parents and students about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Henning Public School has begun educating teachers and hopes to expand that education to parents. WDC brought in Wadena County Public Health to educate its staff and plans to offer a presentation to freshmen. Officer Grabe also runs the D.A.R.E. program with sixth graders.
“We’re well past the point of kids not knowing what this is. There are kids way more educated than adults,” Church said. “We’ve seen a huge decline in kids smoking cigarettes, so let’s do the same thing with e-cigarettes. It’s already out there. Let’s teach kids not to do it.”
What parents need to know
Kids can use e-cigarettes anywhere, not just at school. This is why it’s important that parents take the time to learn all they can about the topic.
“Parents need to know that these are not healthy,” Van Den Eykel said. “The detrimental health effects are just yet to be determined due to the fact that these products have only been around since 2007. They also need to know that they are very easily hidden. They should search Juul and other electronic cigarettes so they know what they look like.”
Rowe noted that one of the misconceptions is that e-cigarettes give off smoke. This is not always the case, and e-cigarettes do not smell like regular cigarettes.
“Be aware and pay attention,” Rowe cautioned. “Based on technology, they can do it in a lot of places and people aren’t going to notice.”
Rowe encourages parents to reach out to their local school or county public health office if they have concerns about e-cigarettes or if they find their child using one. Students are also encouraged to talk to their parents or a school faculty member if they see e-cigarettes being used or if they want to know more about the dangers.
For more parent resources, the U.S. Surgeon General offers these tips on how to approach the subject with your child.