Addressing the dangers of youth vaping

LIVINGSTON COUNTY — Drugs have long been a symbol of rebellion and expression among youth. In recent years, this has taken shape in a new form: vaping. Representing a new era of flashy tobacco products, schools and businesses have been forced to address the growing problem.

A common misconception is that vaping poses less of a health risk to the body than traditional cigarettes. However, according to Sandra Parker from drug prevention agency Karen Bergbower and Associates in Livingston County, vaping is “absolutely” a dangerous activity for teens. 

“The nicotine is highly addictive,” Parker said. “They try it once because of the fantastic, fruity, fun flavors, and their friends are doing it, possibly, and they try it, then it becomes a thing they do regularly. … They can’t just pick it up, put it down.”

Since addiction remains a common consequence, the question remains why so many teens are picking up vapes in the first place.

“I think it has to do with, one, a coping mechanism, and two, they do it a lot because it’s a status symbol. Other kids are doing it,” said Parker. “Also, it’s marketed to kids, highly so.”

If marketing is the culprit, Parker believes it also has the potential to be a solution. While it may be impossible to get rid of Big Tobacco, she thinks holding them responsible for education could help mitigate the issue.

“They’re responsible for making these flavors that entice (youth). No grown man wants to smoke a Fruit Loop-flavored cigarette. Generally, that’s a kid thing. ‘Blue Moon Raspberry’ is a flavor that caters to young kids,” said Parker.

“So, flavors have to go. You have to educate the youth. They have to know — and not just the kids, not just the youth. Parents have to know that it’s not better than tobacco. It’s not better than cigarettes. It’s not the better alternative.”

In many ways, vaping is actually more dangerous, Parker said, because the concept has grown less concrete.

“Vaping is considered to be lots of things: there’s vaping e-cigarettes, there’s vaping THC … you don’t know necessarily what you’re vaping when you pick up a vape,” she said.

Vaping is also dangerous in that, unlike traditional cigarettes, it’s easy to do discreetly.

“Magically, you can do it just about everywhere. You can get rid of the vape cloud,” said Parker. “Whereas (with) smoking cigarettes, you can’t smoke in a restaurant anymore, in a public place, right? Vaping, generally you can do that without getting caught.”

Schools in Livingston County aren’t exempt. Several districts have sought solutions to reduce youth vaping. Like Parker, they’ve largely targeted the marketing and sale of vapes and e-cigarettes to children.

Both the Fowlerville Community Schools Board of Education and the Brighton Area Schools Board of Education have recently passed resolutions addressing the role of businesses in instigating youth vape use. Although Brighton Superintendent Matt Outlaw says incidents have been fairly limited at BAS, a belief shared by Brighton High School Principal Matthew Evans, both agree it’s still an important problem.

“We do realize that vaping is a serious health concern for our nation, including our school-age youth,” Evans said. “As a result, we want to treat vaping like the serious issue it is and take a proactive approach to trying to prevent an increase in the frequency of these incidents occurring at BHS.”

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In the past, schools have implemented the installation of catch-and-punish solutions, like vape alarms. But many districts have shifted to focus on education as a preventative measure, too.

“One of the most proactive approaches we can take is prioritizing appropriate education around the issue of vaping,” Evans said.

Parker is actively involved in such measures, running prevention education groups for kids whom she hopes to prevent from engaging in vaping and drug use in the future.

“Prevention is key,” she said. “Getting them educated, letting them know … trying it once — trying it once with anything — it’s going to be very dangerous in the long run.”

— Ari Hickman is a sophomore at Brighton High School and a freelancer for The Livingston Daily. Contact the newsroom at [email protected].

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