Local school, health officials discuss teen vaping epidemic

North High School resource officer Kevin Evans, who has served in the district for seven years.

Anna Huntsman

On the first day back after winter break for Akron Public Schools students, North High School resource officer Kevin Evans sat in his office and opened his desk drawers, searching for something he once confiscated from a student.

“This is a juul,” he said.

While it looks like a USB flash drive, the device is actually an e-cigarette. Juuls are branded as an alternative to cigarettes that can help people quit smoking, but they contain about as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes — and they’re getting in the hands of young adults.

“It’s certainly easier to hide, certainly easier to use, and it’s socially more accepted right now than cigarettes,” Evans said.

In December, the U.S. Surgeon General declared vaping an epidemic for America’s youth. High school students are vaping and using e-cigarettes at an increasingly high rate and, in turn, getting addicted to nicotine

Cory Kendrick, director of population health at Summit County Public Health, has conducted studies and surveys about teen vaping across the county.“Research is showing youth that start [vaping,] it’s a one-way street to not only long-term vaping addiction, but also traditional tobacco use,” he said.

He added that 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 posted (on social media) on how to do this in class, like blowing the vapor in your shirt and those sorts of things.”

Kendrick says one of the reasons vaping has become so popular is that vapor fluid, or “juice,” comes in many different flavors. According to the Juul website, juul pod flavors range from mint to mango. Health officials warn that juice contains cancer-causing substances.

Evans says 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 fruity, kind of sweet smell,” he said. “I’m not sure kids understand the harmful effects of it.”

While Evans said vaping is an issue, he said in his urban district there are bigger concerns, particularly with illegal drugs. According to Kendrick’s county-wide research, vaping seems to be more of a concern 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 & Mild Cigarillos for a dollar.”

Still, school districts everywhere are taking action to combat the vaping epidemic by updating tobacco rules in their codes of conduct. Kendrick said 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.

Anna Huntsman is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]