Vaping epidemic reaches Duluth school

Vapor from a hit a UMD student took off of a vape. Photo by Karli Kruse

Vapor from a hit a UMD student took off of a vape. Photo by Karli Kruse

The Food and Drug Administration has labeled it an epidemic. More and more youths, some even in the fifth and sixth grade, have become addicted to vaping.

Merriam-Webster defines vape/vaping as “to inhale vapor through the mouth from a usually battery-operated electronic device (such as an electronic cigarette) that heats up and vaporizes a liquid or solid.”

The problem has bled into Duluth schools. Danette Seboe, principal of Duluth East high school, said that the school sent out an anonymous survey earlier this year to all the students asking them about vape use in the school.

“We have a lot of students complaining about using the bathrooms,” Seboe said, “because there’s somebody always vaping in them.”

Seboe said that according to the survey, 50 to 75 percent of kids at the school vape or have used at some point. Also, the majority of kids thought that most students were vaping on a regular basis, which relates to multiple times a week to multiple times a day.

“It’s all kinds of students,” Seboe said, “honor students, athletes, band, drama, kids who don’t participate in extracurriculars, we are definitely seeing that it’s pretty evenly spread.”

When they have had conversations with students, Seboe said that some students say that they are addicted and that they don’t know about what they should do.

“They didn’t necessarily understand it when they started,” Seboe said. “Some don’t think it’s harmful, some don’t think it’s addictive, or they think it’s a better alternative to smoking.”

Different vaping devices. Photo by Karli Kruse

Different vaping devices. Photo by Karli Kruse

Amanda Casady, tobacco control project manager at the American Lung Association in Minnesota, said that the new vaping products, like Juul, Suorin and Ovos contain higher amounts of nicotine than the original e-cigarettes.

Each Juul pod contains 58 mg of nicotine, which is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes.

Casady said that there is documented research that shows how nicotine is not safe for a developing brain. It can cause learning difficulty, lower attention spans and memory loss.

“By the time the kids are fully addicted which it only takes about a week or two,” Casady said, “kids are going through at least a pod a day, in some cases we’ve heard kids using up to four a day. Basically an entire generation who wouldn’t be pack-a-day smokers, are now pack-a-day smokers.”

So then, why do they vape in the first place?

“A lot of our students are feeling the pressure to use,” Seboe said. “They told us that that peer pressure is the single biggest factor. It feels like everybody is doing this, so I should.”

According to the school survey, students are getting their vaping products from other kids in the school. The students who are 18 buy the products and sell them to the other kids. Students also order the products online, which is easier for them because it cuts out the middleman.

In order to control the use of the devices being used in the school, the faculty presented information to teachers about trying to catch the students vaping in the classroom. After the teachers were made aware about what vaping devices look and smell like, Seboe said that’s when the number of confiscated items went up.

They mostly confiscate Suorins and Ovos. Seboe said that the students have said that the Juul is not as popular and the students are starting to sell them. Seboe said that it’s a rare day when they don’t confiscate any devices.

“On our busiest days, it’s five to ten a day,” Seboe said.

Earlier this year, Duluth passed an ordinance that restricted the sale of flavored smoking products in convenience stores.

In lieu of Hermantown passing the T21 ordinance, no tobacco sales to anyone under 21, Casady said that the Duluth City Council will put it up for vote within the next couple of months.

Anyone looking for more information about vaping or tobacco products, contact American Lung Association in Minnesota at (218) 726-4721.