Escape the Vape


This summer a mysterious trend of severe lung illnesses among otherwise healthy young adults began to garner public attention.  By the end of September, 14 people had died, and more than 800 others became seriously ill nationwide.  Unfortunately, teens and young adults have been early adopters of e-cigarettes and vaping products, perhaps partially because flavors like cotton candy, Crème, and marshmallow appeal to youthful tastes.  Endorsements by teen-friendly celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Bella Hadid only added to vaping’s appeal.

San Antonio passed an ordinance raising the legal age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 years of age in October 2018, and the following Texas state law went into effect Sept. 1, 2019.  However, teens and young adults have not been easily deterred.  The Juul and many of the other e-cigarette delivery systems are almost impossible for school administrators and parents to detect.  The Juul in particular is designed to look very similar to a flash drive, virtually indistinguishable from the real thing even in the new clear backpacks and easy to hide in a pocket.

In response to this growing problem, NEISD is implementing training for students and parents about the dangers of vaping and ways to resist peer pressure to partake.  Churchill High School STAN Counselor Kathleen Johnson has spearheaded the district’s program.  Classroom visits roll out in NEISD’s high schools this week.  Kathleen and her cohorts addressed students in their English classes, allowing them to learn in a small group setting to provide opportunity for them to interact and ask questions.

She has seen a sharp uptick in cases of kids suffering consequences of vaping—becoming addicted to nicotine, losing their spot on a team or club, or being expelled because they were found with a vaping device that contained THC (the component of marijuana that causes the high). 

“I worry that vaping is becoming a trend in Northeast’s schools,” Kathleen said. “I am seeing not just the at-risk kids, but the good kids, making bad choices and suffering consequences,” she said.  “I knew we needed to educate our kids and make sure they knew the dangers.”

Kathleen created a curriculum to raise awareness about vaping, identify common myths and share the dangers and health risks with students.  She also hopes to help empower students with language to resist peer pressure.

“It has been well received by the kids so far,” Kathleen added.  She has found there’s a lot of social pressure to vape, and kids want to fit in.  “I ask them to write down something they learned to tell a friend or to get out of a situation.  One said, ‘No thanks, I don’t want to ruin my lungs.’”

Kathleen mentioned that in addition to students realizing the serious health risks associated with vaping, they also are learning about the NEISD’s expulsion and zero tolerance drug policy. Parents will have the opportunity to find out more through a parent education program, too, Kathleen added.  Churchill’s is October 10, but check your high school’s event page for future programs open to the public. Also look for “EscapeTheVape,” on the district’s webpage.

National Response

The chief executive of the most popular e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul labs, resigned the last week of September amid growing pubic criticism from as high up as the White House of its marketing practices that purportedly targeting teens.  The CDC is still discovering what exactly about the e-cigarettes and vaping products is causing this sometime-fatal illness – marked by rapid onset of shortness of breath and chest pain.

An article in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal by Talal Ansari states, “Authorities have urged people to stop using electronic cigarettes and other vaping products while they investigate the illness. The Food and Drug Administration and the Trump administration recently said they would pull e-cigarette flavored products off the market.  On September 27, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued an executive order directing state health officials to put an emergency ban on flavored vaping products.”

Another article in the same publication by Jennifer Maloney and Betsy McKay read, “Inside Juul’s Celebrity Push – The e-cigarette maker pursued stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and model Bella Hadid, even as teen-vaping concern mounted.  Underage vaping has continued to climb,” reported the article.  “Last week Juul said it had decided not to push back against the planned ban on all e-cigarettes except those made to taste like tobacco.”  Also in the article,  “‘Juul engaged in a wide variety of promotional activities and outreach efforts to persuade potential customers, including youth, to use Juul products,’ said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, in a recent letter to Juul’s chief executive.”

“One-quarter of users who shared tweets from the official @JUULvapor Twitter account between February 2017 and January 2018 were under 18, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine,” as noted in the Wall Street Journal.


By Amy Morgan