CANTON — Joey Boswell knows how young people in the north country are hiding, buying and getting away with the use of electronic cigarettes.
On Friday, Mr. Boswell, the Seaway Valley Prevention Reality Check Coordinator for the NYS Bureau of Tobacco Control youth program, provided information on trends and misconceptions about electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or vaping, to service providers at the Opioid Task Force Partners 4 Substance Use Prevention monthly meeting at the Fairfield Inn & Suites.
“So our goal is to try to educate you as providers about what we’re seeing, what we’re hearing and how you can help schools, safety resource officers and how we can help our community come together and become more educated,” Mr. Boswell said. “As we know the big tobacco companies are behind the e-cigarette production.”
Since 1980, the average age of a new smoker, nationwide, has been 13 years old, he told the room, showing videos of teens and preteens talking about vaping and reviewing a variety of e-cigarette flavors in videos on YouTube and other internet sources.
Additionally, Mr. Boswell discussed the marketing mechanism of “big tobacco” companies, which he said has targeted children for more than 40 years, with product and advertisement placement at the eye level of kids.
Vaping products come under various names, he said, such has “pen vape, e-cig, mig, mod, box mod, pod mod, personal vaporizor (PV), vape pen, Juul, Suorin, Blu, Logic, BO and MarkTen.” There are also “dab pens” which are made of similar components as e-cigarettes, but are used for dabs, or small concentrates of THC.
Citing the 2010-2018 state Youth Tobacco Survey, Mr. Boswell said the percentage of students who are open to using e-cigarettes has increased from 23.7 percent in 2014 to 27.5 percent in 2016 to 31 percent in 2018.
Each of those figures surpass the percentage of students who said they were open to smoking conventional cigarettes in the study, with 22.1 percent of kids being open to it in 2010 and declining to 16.5 percent in 2016. That number saw a slight increase in 2019 to 19.4 percent.
Moreover, the use of e-cigarettes by young people between 2014 and 2018 has increased by 160 percent, according to a state Youth Tobacco Survey. That same survey found cigarette smoking among high school youths declined by 82 percent between 2000 and 2018. From 2016 to 2018, the rate increased from 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent, the first increase in combustible cigarette use among young people in the state since 2000.
But even that language is misleading, Mr. Boswell said, with the use of the battery-operated e-cigarettes also having the potential to be “combustible.” The wattage of electricity that was used in 2013 was 50 to 75. As of 2019, the devices have amped up to 200 plus watts.
“It’s important to know that there is no standard regulation by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration when it comes to these products,” Mr. Boswell said. “So this means that anyone and everyone can manufacture their own e-juice and their own e-cigarette, so if kids are going online which is where they are mostly purchasing their products, they are purchasing an e-juice that has been created by somebody and you don’t know exactly what is inside that product. How do you know that it is safe for you to ingest or safe for you to put inside your body?”
And the products are also created to have flavors modeled after candy and sweets, adding to evidence that children are the key target for the products, Mr. Boswell said. In 2013, there were 50 to 100 e-juice flavors. As of 2019, there were 20,000 flavors.
“So what we are starting to find out is there is a high level of nicotine inside most of these juices that these companies don’t have to say anything about because no one is actually overseeing or checking these products,” he said. “Whether that be the ingredients in the products or the nicotine levels, and we also know that when kids get hooked at an early age, before the age of 25, the nicotine will actually rewire the brain and it will cause the start of an addiction.”
Many of the kids that are vaping, in or out of schools, are doing so undetected in many instances since there is often no trace of smoke or vapor, which Mr. Boswell said has left many guardians feeling as though they are chasing a ghost. The devices are also small and easy to hide, and for school administrators, they are limited in their ability to search students in order to confiscate the devices.
He said there are two main signs to look for in young people using e-cigarettes.
The first is mood swings, which he said can be tricky, because many adolescents are dealing with hormones and puberty, which can also result in mood swings.
Similarly, however, he said young people could have mood swings because they don’t have the nicotine inside of their body, which makes them become irritable.
“That is a good indication that maybe they are utilizing an e-cigarette or tobacco product because the nicotine is leaving the brain, so their brain is literally getting irritated because there is no dopamine being produced in order for them to have the relaxed, euphoric feeling,” he said. “Another sign is if you smell a fruity or sweet kind of aroma coming from either a bedroom or a bathroom or even in the house, but you don’t have a candle going or you don’t have an incense or air freshener.”
For more information, go to the Advancing Tobacco Free Communities: St. Lawrence/Jefferson/Lewis Counties website at http://wdt.me/oCtzfn or call (315) 713-4861 and ask for the tobacco grant, for brochures, talking points and other information for parents school administrators and law enforcement.