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How pervasive is teen vaping? Students at this local high school formed an addiction support group

“ORANGE, Ohio — Ahmed Abouelsoud “hit a Juul” last year when a friend offered it to him. He was hooked from the start.

You may not be familiar with the lingo here. “Hitting a Juul” meansinhaling nicotine-laced, flavored vapor from a vaping device made by a company called Juul Labs. The device looks like a computer thumb drive. It’s easy to conceal. And it’s the vaping device of choice for many teens, available at the corner gas station, for sale to 18-year-olds who then sell them to younger friends.

Ahmed is hardly alone. Vaping, according to Dr. Scott Gottleib, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is now epidemic among teens.

“I’ve seen it everywhere,” said Edie Ungar-Shafron, the psychologist at Orange High School, where Ahmed is a senior. “It’s pervasive.”

It is everywhere, said Ahmed: “All of my friends and everyone I see and everyone at any social event all have jewels. Everyone our age.”

Ahmed would never consider lighting up a cigarette. They’re nasty, he said. But he loved the feeling when he hit the Juul. The soothing vapor, the mint flavor, the high.

“When I actually started being able to breathe in the smoke and get a buzz, I, like, loved it. It was something unlike I’ve ever done before because I’ve never smoked or done anything,” he said.

And like many teens, he found himself addicted, blowing money on the replacement “pods” and sneaking off to vape in secret at school. When he resolved to quite, he threw his Juul from the balcony of his high-rise apartment. A short time later, having turned 18 and of legal age to purchase, he simply bought another one.

I’ve been trying to quit for I don’t even know how long but I’ve never been able to set my mind to it ‘til recently,” he said. “I’ve been trying to do it, but I always end up, like, setting myself back and hitting it again.”

What changed recently was that Ahmed joined a weekly vaping addiction support group at Orange High School and began sharing his successes and setbacks with fellow students trying to kick the vaping habit.

It’s a surreal experience seeing high school students as young as 15 gather in a small conference room to share addiction stories as if they’re at a 12-step meeting. Vaping has become that pervasive.

Juul says it targets smokers, that vaping is a healthier alternative and perhaps a way to quit. Young people provide evidence that there’s another market, the kind who go for mango and mint flavors. The kind who, like smokers of their parents’ generation, just can’t quit.

And it turns out the path to recovery may lie with the teens themselves.

The Orange High School program, called ABC, (For About Change), was the brainchild of Senior Mark Pristash, 18, who was the first to open up to school Ungar-Shafron about his addiction.

“After multiple times of trying to quit by myself, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think it was possible. I just thought I was way too addicted,” he said.

He and the school psychologist walked the school track and talked about coping strategies, about how the first three days are the hardest, about the dangers to Pristash’s brain posed by Juuling. “Their brains are under construction and they can’t handle it. It’s such a horrible chemical,” she said.

The sessions motivated him. Months ago, he quit. And then he looked to help the legions of other kids attached to their Juuls.

“Once I got through it, I knew it was possible, and I just wanted to give other students the opportunity to learn how to quit something if they’re going through the same thing that I was going through,” he said.

So he brought a friend, and then another, and then he and Ungar-Shafron, along with Jessica Venditti, a social worker assigned to the school from the Bellfaire JCB social service agency, created the ABC support group. Students meet on Thursdays — no administration or other teachers allowed.

Venditti said students tell her that being suspended doesn’t help. It just gives them more time at home to vape.

The administration of the school is on board. Students caught vaping at school still face punishment, but the hope is they’d get help before they get in trouble. And those caught with devices are referred to Venditti.

“It’s a way that we can get the problem addressed without hammering the students with being out of school and, obviously, the more you’re out of school, the more your academics are affected,” said Assistant Principal Steve Hardaway.

The ABC group wrote a grant proposal and got $500 from the PTA for treats and gadgets to occupy fidgety hands. In their sessions, they learn facts about addiction, eat Ungar-Shafron’s homemade brownies, plates of assorted cheeses and plenty of fresh fruit. And they share what they’re going through.

Abouelsoud laid it bare during one session, after several students talked about how well their recovery was going.. He’d had a good stretch of avoiding the Juul, then got tempted (“because everyone is doing it and it’s all around you”) and was back at it again. He said he hoped to get another new vape-free streak going.

“Peer to peer is so much more impactful than them hearing it from us,” said Venditti, who noted that Ahmed’s situation is one all of the vaping students will face.

“They’re going to have to commit themselves over and over and over again to their goal, even if they’ve been successful or for a period of time. They’re going to walk into a social setting and be faced with a choice. And so they have to keep working at it,” she said.

It’s amazing to see these young people working at it, and daunting when you consider the small size of the group — maybe two dozen kids — relative to the size of the student body, north of 700.

Parents, there’s a good chance your child is Juuling, or has close friends — tempting friends — who do. It would be great if every school started a peer-to-peer group like Orange did. But even without it, an honest conversation with your child and some old-fashioned parental snooping is in order. This isn’t about imposing authority, this is about protecting the health of our kids.

“We had been talking about it and for years he said. ‘It’s stupid. Anybody that does that is stupid. I don’t know why anyone would do that.’,” said Laura Kochis, whose son, Jared, a 17-year-old junior is in the group. “And then I found it in his room.”

Jared said he hasn’t vaped since November after struggling to quit, and blowing his savings, over the summer. He told his mom he’d quit long before he really had.

 

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Duluth City Council passes Tobacco 21 ordinance

Duluth, MN (Learfield) – Smokers under the age of 21 will no longer be able to buy tobacco products in Duluth this spring.

The Duluth City Council passed a Tobacco 21 ordinance at Monday night’s meeting which goes into effect in 120 days.

People who supported the hike were wearing T-shirts that read, “Raise the age. Raise a tobacco-free generation.”

Duluth becomes the 23rd Minnesota city or county to raise the tobacco age from 18 to 21. Neighboring Hermantown is the only other community with an ordinance in northeastern Minnesota.

Bridgeport raises the age of sale of tobacco to 21; law includes e-cigarettes

BRIDGEPORT —  The City of Bridgeport became the second city in the state to raise the age of sale of tobacco to 21-years-old.

The vote passed 16-1.

Bryte Johnson Chairman of the MATCH Coalition, said this is good news for Bridgeport and is a step forward in protecting kids from the dangers of tobacco.

“It’s great news that Bridgeport is taking such a decisive step forward in protecting kids from the dangers of tobacco use in all forms,” said Bryte Johnson Chairman of the MATCH Coalition.  “Leaders in Bridgeport and Hartford should be commended for these actions, and our state lawmakers need to follow their lead in passing Tobacco 21 legislation across Connecticut.”

“Raising the tobacco age of sale to 21 is one of the best things cities can do to focus on reducing youth initiation and addiction to tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, Regional Director of Advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids during his testimony in front of the Council.   “While other policies work to increase cessation and reduce consumption among adults, Tobacco 21 is focused on exclusively on protecting kids and keeping all addictive tobacco products out of schools and out of their hands.”

“Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in our state.  It continues to kill more people in Connecticut each year than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined,” said Michael Smith, MD, Medical Director, Primary Care Clinic Bridgeport Hospital.  “Tobacco also costs the state more than $2 billion in health care costs annually.  Tobacco 21 is a promising policy to help protect youth from this lifetime addiction to these deadly products.”

Statewide Tobacco 21 policies have been enacted in California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, and Massachusetts.

County raises tobacco buying age to 21

Commissioner Ken Cornell spoke highly of the new ordinance, calling the use of e-cigarettes among kids an “epidemic.”

Alachua County is now the first county in the state to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21.

County commissioners voted Tuesday night to hike the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18.

The new ordinance will be enforced in all areas of the county, and applies to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, vaping products and liquid nicotine devices.

 

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Jerry Brewington, senior planner for the county’s growth management office, said the ordinance is aimed at stopping the sale of tobacco products. In other words, those under 21 won’t be penalized for smoking.

The ordinance also requires tobacco vendors to buy a sales license. The license will cost each business $230 annually, and stores with licenses cannot be within 1,000 feet of a public school.

The county will use a corporation with experience enforcing tobacco compliance inspections within Florida, named Information Systems and Networks Corporations, to handle such tasks as maintaining data on violations and conducting inspections.

A new, part-time county staff position will process the licenses.

Many members of the nonprofit Tobacco Free Alachua County attended the meeting, saying the region should be the leader in phasing out youth tobacco use.

The ordinance passed 5-0 and will take effect in nine months.

Commissioner Ken Cornell spoke highly of the new ordinance, calling the use of e-cigarettes among kids an “epidemic.”

“We’re really happy,” Megan Hendricks, an Alachua County PTA member, said after the vote. “This will have a positive impact on our children.”

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Brian Donohue column: Tobacco 21: Addressing the right problem the wrong way

Nearly 95 percent of adults who smoke started before age 21, so we applaud our state legislators for wanting to reduce the use of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, for those younger than 21. However, the proposed bill as it is drafted will not provide the public policy results legislators are looking for and will not have support from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

It is important to closely evaluate each proposed Tobacco 21 bill as the tobacco industry has a history of using age of sale laws to weaken restrictions on sales to youth, penalize youth, create carve-outs for certain products, and to interfere with other effective tobacco control policies.

ACS CAN has been working to advance effective Tobacco 21 legislation across the nation for several years. What we have learned from these debates is that the legislative focus needs to be on the sale — not the purchase — of tobacco and e-cigarette products. We have also seen that penalizing and fining youth who purchase tobacco and e-cigarettes has proven not to be an effective way to reduce consumption. Therefore, as this bill is drafted, it will not have support from ACS CAN.

The Tobacco 21 legislation needs to address three critical areas of concern in order to have the greatest impact: focus on the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes rather than the purchase, require licensing for all retailers that sell tobacco and e-cigarette products, and fund prevention and cessation programs to help reduce youth tobacco use.

This bill retains penalties for youth who purchase, use, and possess tobacco and e-cigarette products. We have learned from working Tobacco 21 bills across the states that laws that focus on the purchaser rather than the seller fail to reduce youth consumption. Virginia’s current law unfairly penalizes youth, many of whom became addicted at an early age due to tobacco industry marketing campaigns. This takes the spotlight off Big Tobacco and retailers and shifts it onto the victims — our youth.

Not licensing retailers makes enforcement and holding retailers accountable next to impossible. For Tobacco 21 laws to be effective, there must be strict enforcement to ensure a high rate of compliance. We recommend the proposed bill be amended to require retailers to be licensed, designate an enforcement agency, identify a dedicated funding source for enforcement, require annual unannounced compliance checks, increase fines and penalties including license suspension and revocation for retailers found out of compliance, provide for citizen complaints of violations, require appropriate signage at retail stores, and, lastly, provide retailer education.

Our final concern is that many young people who smoke are already addicted. Some research suggests that penalizing youth could deter them from seeking support for cessation. Promoting and increasing funding for tobacco prevention and cessation resources for teens interested in quitting would be a more beneficial alternative to fines and punishment.

Without the amendments outlined above, this bill will prove to be ineffective, feel-good legislation that allows the tobacco and e-cigarette industries to support this measure while presenting themselves as good corporate citizens who are doing the right thing.

We urge lawmakers to oppose this bill as drafted and work to seize this opportunity to pass meaningful legislation that has proven to effectively reduce youth consumption of all tobacco and e-cigarette products. ACS CAN stands ready to work with legislators on amendments needed to make this bill an effective vehicle for protecting our young people from a lifelong addiction to tobacco and e-cigarette products.