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Hooked on Vaping: How to prevent teen e-cigarette use

PHOENIX — From banning flavors to raising the age limit to buy electronic cigarettes, numerous solutions have been proposed to address the growing problem of vaping among teens.

“I think it really starts at home,” said Marcus Williams, director of athletics and student discipline for Chandler Unified School District. “Parents need to be educated on what vaping is. They need to check what’s in their students’ backpack or in their person before they go to school.”

His district and others in the East Valley have seen a growing number of students vaping in school over the last few years. Some have responded by creating campaigns and educating students about the dangers of vaping.

Jennifer Liewer, the Tempe Union High School District’s executive director for community relations, agreed parents need to set expectations and let their teens know vaping “is not acceptable.”

Liewer added convenience stores and smoke shops also need to play a role in preventing teens from vaping.

“We need responsible business owners to ensure that these devices are only being sold to who they’re legally allowed to be sold to,” she said.

It’s illegal for anyone under 18 years old to buy vaping products. But that’s not stopping some retailers across Arizona from selling them to minors.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Tobacco Enforcement Unit is seeing an uptick in stores selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to undercover minors.

Some states have tried to get rid of this problem by banning the sale of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.

“I don’t think a complete ban on e-cigarettes is going to be useful at this point, because kids are just going to get illegal products,” said Dustin Pardini, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. “That makes it even potentially more dangerous, because you don’t know what is going into them.”

Pardini is the primary administrator of the Arizona Youth Survey, which is completed every two years and asks teens questions about substance use. The most recent survey released in 2018 found almost half of Arizona’s students have vaped by the time they reach 12th grade.

He said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s plan to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette liquid, also called vaping juice, is a better idea, saying the flavors that range from chocolate to cereal to cotton candy are what appeal most to teens.

Dr. Karen Swanson, pulmonary physician at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said she worries products sold on the black market are to blame for many of the vaping-related lung illnesses that have been reported this year.

She agreed banning the sale of vaping products is not the answer. Instead, she said there should be more regulation of the chemicals that go into them.

“Even the nicotine pods that have been around for a really long time really are not regulated,” she said. “We don’t know exactly how much nicotine is on a puff of a nicotine pod. Some of these pods actually have more nicotine in them than an entire pack of cigarettes.”

Swanson added she would also like to see changes in vaping product packages, which she said currently look like “they’re for children.”

Brach Drew, a senior at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, said he’s concerned classmates see vaping as being acceptable. He said some students vape in school bathrooms, and younger students are getting vaping products from students who are old enough to buy them.

Drew said parents are part of the solution to prevent teens from vaping.

“They need to know what they look like – there are so many types of e-cigs out there,” he said. “And they also need to know what a Juul pod is so that if they see them, they can have a conversation.”

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