Teen vaping prevention a focus for local groups

 PHOTO PROVIDEDLocal students involved in the Reality Check program pose with protest signs in Richmond, Va., outside the Altria Group’s annual shareholders’ meeting. Altria owns shares in several big players in the tobacco and vaping industry, including Marlboro and Juul Labs.

PLATTSBURGH — It may seem like “everyone is doing it,” but there is reason to believe that vaping is more harmful than experts originally thought.

That’s why, in recent years, Nichole Christiansen, prevention director at the Champlain Valley Family Center, and Danielle O’Mara, community engagement program coordinator for Tobacco Free Clinton Franklin Essex, have incorporated vaping education into the prevention programs they are involved with in the North Country.

Like the national trend, they’ve seen a local jump in e-cigarette use and vaping.

“Most of the statistics we’re getting at this point is that there’s been quite an increase in vaping with youth,” O’Mara said. “With that going on, you’re obviously going to see it more in schools.”

Just over 37 percent of high school seniors reported using “vaping” products in the past 12 months, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2018 “Monitoring the Future” survey, up from 27.8 percent in 2017.

Out of 777 students from five Clinton County Schools who responded to questions about their e-cigarette use in the family center's local 2018 Prevention Needs Assessment Survey, 33.5 percent of those eighth, 10th and 12th graders said they had used a vaping product in the year prior.

To help combat these rising numbers, both the family center and Tobacco Free CFE have established educational programs with aims to prevent teens from starting in the first place.

Aside from individual and group counseling related to numerous substances that the family center provides, it also provides school-based substance use education in six of Clinton County’s eight school districts, having incorporated vaping into the curriculum and classroom materials in recent years.

On top of its four main initiatives advocating for limits on tobacco use and advertising, Tobacco Free CFE also runs the North Country's tri-county chapter of Reality Check, a group that focuses on having teens from local schools lead tobacco use prevention efforts.

Some of the group’s recent local events include a “Chalk Walk” at MacDonagh Park in Plattsburgh where group members drew educational messages about the risks of smoking and vaping and a cigarette butt collection day they performed around Plattsburgh.



This summer, New York State passed a law to raise the age to purchase cigarettes and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21.

The change will take effect on Nov. 13, 120 days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law.

There was hope then from lawmakers, including the governor, that this would help prevent middle and high school-age students from getting their hands on both the traditional and e-cigarette products.

“That was nice, because for a while it just seemed to be sitting, and then finally it moved forward,” O’Mara said. “There were a lot of people cheering that, but there’s still a lot of education and work to be done.”

O’Mara pointed to the fact that internet-savvy teens can bypass age restrictions by simply ordering products online as a reason that they’ll need to continue education efforts.

The National Institute’s survey found that 45.7 percent and 66.6 percent of eighth and 10th graders, respectively, reported that the devices are “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get, reinforcing that ease of access continues to be a factor in teen use. 



Vaping originally gained popularity as what was seen as a “healthier” way for smokers to wean off of cigarettes, away of thinking that Christiansen and O’Mara worry has made teens think that the habit is harmless.

“I still don’t think that (teens) buy into that there’s true health risks to it,” Christiansen said. “A good portion of the kids we’ve dealt with don’t fully understand the consequences. You’re rewiring the brain with nicotine, making it more receptive to other substances. It plays off the same receptors that opiates play off of.”

Aside from nicotine dependency, a Centers for Disease Control health advisory released Aug. 30, stated that there have been 215 reported cases of possible e-cigarette-related pulmonary illness that are currently under investigation.

“There’s risks,” Christiansen said. “Just because something smells good or looks cool doesn’t make it healthy or harmless.”

As of Sept. 6, the number of cases being investigated had bumped up to 450 in 33 states and one U.S. territory.

Both Christiansen and O’Mara brought attention to this unknown severity of possible negative health effects of vaping as a reason not to risk starting.

“You end up with this young generation of people vaping being the guinea pig,” O’Mara said. “Don’t be the guinea pig. Don’t be the person that finds out this is going to take away your livelihood and shorten your life by 40 years.”


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