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Summit County Sees Signs of a Teen Vaping Epidemic

“E-cigarettes are branded as alternatives to cigarettes that can help people stop smoking. But teenagers are using these devices to start smoking. Schools across Summit County have seen an increase in vaping, and local health officials are working to combat the issue that’s now considered a national epidemic.

 

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Vaping as a gateway
“Research is showing youth that start this, it’s a one way street to not only long term vaping addiction, but also traditional tobacco use,” said Cory Kendrick, director of population health at the Summit County health department. He said principals and superintendents across the county have identified this as a problem in their schools.

“It’s almost like a cool thing to do to show hey, I’m vaping in class,” he said. “There’s techniques on how to do this in class like blowing the vapor in your shirt and those sorts of things.”

Eighteen-year-old Ashlee Barnett told me she tried vaping once when she was in the car with her friends.

“I was just like, ‘Eh, like I don’t know.’ They were like ‘it’s not a big deal, it doesn’t have nicotine in it, like, it’s fine. You can just do it once and you don’t have to do it ever again,” she said. “I was just like, ‘okay.’”

 

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Barnett said the vape was green apple flavored.

Lack of regulation cause for concern
While some vapor fluids are nicotine-free,  Kendrick from Summit County Public Health says there is little government regulation on the devices, especially ones that are purchased online coming from overseas.

The fluid, or “juice,” comes in many different flavors, which Kendrick suspects is one of the reasons vaping has become so popular among kids. According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General, that juice contains cancer-causing substances.

North High School resource officer Evans said kids might not be informed of the health risks of these flavored e-cigarettes.

“If you’ve ever been around someone who’s vaping or e-cigarettes, you get that sweet smell, and I’m not sure kids understand the harmful effects of it,” he said.

A suburban problem
While vaping is a problem for Officer Evans, he says there are bigger concerns in the district, particularly with illegal drugs. According to Kendrick’s research at the county health department, vaping seems to be more prevalent in the suburbs.

“The schools that have a higher socioeconomic status, students can afford more,” he said. “Juuls aren’t cheap…whereas you can get a two pack of black and mild cigarellos for a dollar.”

At Green High School just south of Akron, Principal Cindy Brown has seen an increase in students vaping over the past three years. She said principals at similar schools are seeing the uptick as well.

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Limiting access
One way officials nationwide are trying to combat the teen vaping epidemic is through Tobacco 21, an initiative focused on raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. In Summit County, six of the 33 municipalities have already passed this ordinance, including Akron and Green.

But Green principal Cindy Brown said kids can still find ways to vape. Some have told her adults have bought the devices for them. She’s also seen other ways.

“I think a lot of people get around that doing it through some online purchases and buying loadable credit cards, you know, like a visa gift card or something like that, and then kids can use that to purchase them online.”

Brown said the health classes at Green teach a whole unit on vaping in order to inform students of the health risks. Districts across the county have adopted stricter punishments for vaping in their codes of conduct. Kendrick says the county needs to take steps to inform both parents and kids about the dangers of vaping.

“It’s something we’re going to have to look at as a community – how do we solve this issue, especially for those who are already addicted,” he said.

The Tobacco 21 ordinance was recently introduced to Stow City Council. If passed, Stow would become the seventh municipality to raise the tobacco buying age to 21 in Summit County.

FDA pursues order barring specific retailers from selling tobacco products as part of its continuing efforts to target youth tobacco use: Agency escalates enforcement action against local Walgreens, Circle K retail locations for repeatedly selling tobacco products to minors

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today initiated enforcement action against certain retail locations of Walgreen Co. and Circle K, Inc. for repeated violations of restrictions on the sale and distribution of tobacco products, including sales of cigars and menthol cigarettes to minors. The agency filed complaints seeking No-Tobacco-Sale Orders (NTSO), which seek to bar the two specific retail locations from selling tobacco products for 30 days. The two retail outlets that are the subject of these NTSO actions are a Walgreens store in Miami, Florida, and a Circle K store in Charleston, South Carolina. Notably, Walgreens is currently the top violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22 percent of the stores inspected having illegally sold tobacco products to minors.

“I will be writing the corporate management of Walgreens and requesting a meeting with them to discuss whether there is a corporate-wide issue related to their stores’ non-compliance and put them on notice that the FDA is considering additional enforcement avenues to address their record of violative tobacco sales to youth. We all share the important responsibility of keeping harmful and addictive tobacco products out of the hands of kids. Retailers in particular – especially those who position themselves as health-and-wellness-minded businesses – are on the frontlines of these efforts and must take that legal obligation seriously. I’m also deeply disturbed that a single pharmacy chain racked up almost 1,800 violations for selling tobacco products to minors across the country. I have particular concerns about whether the pharmacy setting is influencing consumer and retailer perceptions around tobacco products in a way that’s contributing to these troubling findings,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “The FDA will continue to hold retailers accountable by vigorously enforcing the law. We are also evaluating our data on other large, national retail chains to identify other entities that also have high rates of repeat violations and are considering what additional measures we should pursue. While many of our recent enforcement actions focused on the illegal sales and marketing of e-cigarettes, today’s announcement is a reminder that youth access to all tobacco products remains a public health problem. No child should be using any tobacco or nicotine-containing product. And no retailer should be illegally selling these products to minors. As part of our Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan, we’ll continue to employ all the tools at our disposal to monitor, penalize and prevent sales of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to minors at brick-and-mortar stores and Internet storefronts as we work to ensure these products are sold in ways that make them less accessible and appealing to kids.”

An estimated 4.9 million middle and high school students reported current (past 30 days) use of any tobacco product in 2018, according to preliminary results of the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. An epidemic-level rise in e-cigarette use over the last year has led overall tobacco product use to increase by 38 percent among high school students (to 27.1 percent) and by 29 percent among middle school students (to 7.2 percent) in the last year, reversing the declines seen in the last few years.

Because tobacco use is almost always initiated and established during adolescence, early intervention ‒ including making sure tobacco products aren’t being sold to kids ‒ is critical. One of the ways the FDA combats youth tobacco use is through its compliance and enforcement efforts. In particular, the agency provides education and training opportunities to retailers to encourage compliance with restrictions on sales to minors, monitors compliance through surveillance, inspections and investigations, and then takes action when violations occur.

When violations are found, the agency generally issues warning letters and may take enforcement actions, including civil money penalties and NTSOs. Since its retailer enforcement program began in 2010, the FDA has issued more than 81,570 warning letters to retailers for violating the law, initiated more than 19,800 civil money penalty cases and issued 145 NTSOs, as of Dec. 31, 2018.

The NTSO action against this Walgreens outlet follows the issuance of more than 1,550 warning letters and 240 civil money penalty actions against Walgreens stores nationwide for unlawful tobacco product sales to minors. This is, however, the first NTSO action taken against a Walgreens store. While the NTSO action against Circle K is not its first, it marks the first time the agency has initiated an NTSO complaint for the sale of deemed products (cigars) to minors. Since 2010, the FDA has issued over 1,045 warning letters and 205 civil money penalty actions to retailers doing business as Circle K for sales to minors. To put Walgreens’ rate of violations into perspective, among other national, corporate-owned chains, 17.5 percent of Walmart Inc. stores inspected had violations for illegal sales of tobacco products to minors. Additionally, 14 percent of Dollar General Corp. stores inspected, and 9.6 percent of Rite Aid Corp. stores inspected had illegally sold tobacco products to minors.

Under the law, the FDA may pursue an NTSO against a retail outlet that has committed a total of five or more repeated violations of federal tobacco regulations within 36 months. After the FDA initiates an NTSO action by filing a complaint, a retailer has the opportunity to respond to the complaint, and must generally do so within 30 days. Retailers who receive an NTSO complaint from the FDA may enter into a settlement agreement or respond with an answer and contest the allegations before an administrative law judge. If an NTSO goes into effect, a retailer is responsible for ensuring that the establishment does not sell tobacco products during the specified period. Removing or covering up tobacco products are examples of steps that a retailer may choose to take to ensure compliance with an NTSO, but these specific actions are not required. It is up to the retailer to decide what measures to take to ensure no regulated tobacco products are sold at the store during the time period specified in the order. The FDA plans to conduct unannounced compliance check inspections during that period to check whether each establishment is complying with the terms of the order and will take further action if necessary. Consumers and other interested parties can report a potential tobacco-related violation of the Food Drug & Cosmetic Act, including sale of tobacco products to minors, by using the FDA’s Potential Tobacco Product Violation Reporting Form.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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.