Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Shawn Jansen
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Teen vaping on the rise nationally, locally


January 3, 2019

Underage vaping, the inhalation of vapor from an electronic device or e-cigarette, is not only on the increase nationally, it is on the rise locally.

And it is the result of companies directly marketing the products to youth, according to Kristine Crowley, a respiratory therapist with Essentia, who warned East Central junior high students in a presentation at school Wednesday afternoon.

E-juice comes in 15,500 flavors, many sweet and fruity like sour apple, vanilla cupcake, Papa Smurf, blue raspberry, and aloha pineapple. The newest third-generation vaping devices are smaller, so they are easy to hide and made to resemble common school items such as pens and highlighters. The JUUL vaping device is especially popular and looks like a USB drive for use with a computer.

The tobacco industry is targeting young people because it is common knowledge that 95 percent of adults addicted to nicotine started smoking before they were 21, said Crowley.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared teen use of e-cigarettes an epidemic in September, with about one youth in five vaping. The rapid rise reverses a 17-year downward trend of tobacco use in teens.

In response to the increased teen use, the FDA in September gave manufacturers of vaping materials 60 days to provide plans for reducing teen vaping, but the industry is now trying to have the items listed as tobacco cessation devices, though their success in that arena has not been proven, according to Crowley’s presentation.

What’s the harm?

Teens think vaping is harmless, said Crowley. It is not. The dangers are numerous:

– Nearly all e-juices, the liquids that are converted to aerosols or vapors by the battery-powered devices, contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive, and adolescent brains are still developing until age 25 or so. Early nicotine exposure can lead to disruption in learning and attention and lead to addiction to nicotine and other substances as well. Currently, tobacco kills seven times more people than the opioid epidemic, Crowley said, for comparison.

– The nicotine and other chemicals are concentrated. One cartridge of e-juice can contain the nicotine equivalent in one to two packs of cigarettes. If a person inhaled a cartridge over the course of a few hours, they can get nicotine poisoning. Nicotine can be absorbed through the skin, so even touching e-juice can be harmful. Because e-juice and the vaping devices are often packaged colorfully, look like everyday items, and are sugary sweet, they are especially attractive to young children, putting them at risk for accidental ingestion.

– There are numerous heavy metals, particulates and chemicals in the vapor, many of which are known carcinogens like toluene, acetaldehyde, benzene, and formaldehyde. The long-term inhalation effects of many of the flavorings and poisons are unknown. Some, however, are known to cause respiratory disease and distress. Diacetyl, for example, is used as a butter flavoring and is known to cause “popcorn lung”.

– The heating elements and batteries in the vaping devices can cause burns.

Local use trending up

In her office Wednesday afternoon, East Central Secondary Principal Stefanie Youngberg divided up her collection of confiscated vaping materials into two piles, one from this year, and one from when she started as principal eight years ago, a much smaller collection. She said she has recently taken the collection around to educate staff about vaping and what the items look and smell like. She said she confiscated five items following the presentation earlier that afternoon.

She said kids can access vaping materials easily on the Internet, where vaping is romanticized.

“You can go on YouTube and watch the challenges,” she said, explaining that kids upload videos of themselves vaping.

“We’re going to have to keep on it,” she said. “These companies are targeting kids to pad their pockets.”

Gregg Campbell, secondary principal for Willow River Schools, wrote in an email Friday, “I have observed that e-cigarette use and possession is up from last year and considerably more prevalent now than even a couple of years ago. Data from our 2016 Minnesota Student Survey (administered every three years) showed very few students at that time had been exposed to or used e-cigarette devices. I expect that to be a much larger number after the same survey is conducted in January of 2019.”

Campbell added, “The scary thing is that we don’t really know what chemicals are in the vape cartridges and how they might negatively affect student health. We have had students in our school who have had severe (Campbell’s emphasis) reactions to exposure to e-cigarettes. That’s the point I tried to drive home with high school students when I met with them all last week to discuss vaping in school. Not only are you hurting yourself, I told them, but you could potentially put a fellow student in the hospital or worse by vaping near them.”

Bonnie Scullard, dean of students at Hinckley-Finlayson High School, sent via email Friday, “Vaping in our school has been rearing its ugly [head] for the last couple years; however, we have seen an increase in use this year. When visiting with students about their use, it appears that vapes and vaping supplies are quite accessible to our youth. It is concerning how these products are getting onto their hands, but that is out of our control.”

Pine City High School Principal Troy Anderson emailed Friday, “Vaping has, anecdotally, and by data, increased the last few years. Unless you see someone vaping, or get a report from someone, it is difficult to detect.

“Tobacco use (chewing, smoking) has been on the decline for teen users. But, if I were to guess, the number hasn’t actually gone down if you include the increase in nicotine use via vaping.”

What to do

The schools are educating students about the dangers of vaping, but it is a bigger issue.

Campbell stated, “I credit our parents for being very receptive and supportive when given information. And that’s just it; school officials cannot stop this trend alone. We will continue to share information with parents, students and staff to enlist them in the effort to keep these devices out of our school.”

Youngberg said, “The more we can limit accessibility, the better.” But she admits it will continue to be a problem as long as students can get the items on the internet. Vaping materials are also at the cash register in convenience stores.

Some cities are taking action themselves. In Duluth, vaping materials are only available in smoke shops. Crowley said in the presentation that 11 Minnesota cities have raised the age for tobacco use to 21.

For more information on teen use of e-cigarettes in Minnesota, go to


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