#parents | #teensvaping | AHA forum raises awareness of youth vaping

Vaping devices, which can look similar to everyday items, were on display during the American Heart Association’s Akron chapter’s forum, E-cigarettes & Youth — Addressing an Epidemic, which took place Jan. 30 at The University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium.

Shown is a vape watch, which looks similar to a smart watch. The items were on display at the American Heart Association’s Akron chapter’s E-cigarettes & Youth — Addressing an Epidemic forum Jan. 30.

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Teen e-cigarette use, or vaping, is drastically rising, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The AHA’s Akron chapter held a forum, E-cigarettes & Youth — Addressing an Epidemic, Jan. 30 at The University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium to discuss the rise of youth vaping.
According to AHA officials, the forum is part of a larger effort driven by the AHA to begin conversations about e-cigarette use among youth. The AHA is leading community dialogue sessions across the country to bring students, parents, legislators, educators, community members and health organizations together to shed light on the issue and make a local plan to fight this rapidly growing epidemic, said AHA officials.
The forum included a panel of officials and high school students from Akron Public Schools and Revere Local Schools.
Between 2017 and 2018, e-cigarette use rose 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students, according to AHA officials.
Jenny Peshina, executive director of the AHA’s Akron office, moderated the forum and said the usage increase is the largest increase ever since the AHA has been keeping statistics for a substance. She said traditional cigarette use has dropped significantly.
Valerie Weber, community impact director for the AHA’s Akron office, stressed how similar vaping devices look to everyday items. One of the items Weber highlighted was a vape watch, which looks very similar to a smart watch.
She said tobacco companies sell the vaping products in colorful packaging, making it attractive to teenagers.
“We are seeing how creative big tobacco is,” Weber said.
According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 5 million youths are currently using e-cigarettes.
Weber and Peshina both said while at one time vaping was advertised as the safer alternative to smoking, it is not. The big uncertainty, they said, is the long-term effects are unknown.
An e-cigarette refill pod has the same amount of nicotine as at least 20 regular cigarettes, according to the AHA officials.
Peshina posed a series of questions, which school leaders and students took turns answering.
Students were asked where they see peers vaping normally. Students said the most popular place is in bathrooms, but sometimes students will run out to their cars to vape or even do it in a classroom.
Alexis Zapisek, a sophomore at Revere High School, said Revere has vape detectors in the bathrooms, but students still try to find ways around not setting off the detectors.
Revere Superintendent Matthew Montgomery said the district was one of the first in the state to install these detectors, which were paid for with grant money. He said the detectors are installed in the bathrooms at the middle school, high school and the athletic field house.
“The system is very sensitive,” Montgomery said.
He said the devices are always going off, and with limited resources when it comes to teachers and administrators, they can’t always respond every time it goes off.
Montgomery said for first-time offenders for vaping, they will receive a three-day out-of-school suspension, which can be taken down to one day if the student decides to work with Bonnie Simonelli, the at-risk student coordinator for Revere Local Schools.
For the 2018-19 school year, Revere had 42 out-of-school suspensions for vaping, Montgomery said. For this school year, he said, there have been 10.
“I would argue it [vape detectors] is making an impact,” Montgomery said.
He also said if a student is caught with a vaping device, it is taken away and not given back. Catching a student is not easy because of how small the devices are, he said.
“It is just not that easy to detect,” Montgomery said.
Students at the forum were asked how their peers are obtaining vaping devices.
Students responded some stores sell to underage teens or don’t check identification. It also isn’t uncommon for peers to give vaping devices to their friends, the students said.
Administrators and students also discussed if the tobacco age being raised to 21 is helping.
Students for the most part said it won’t make a difference and cited the age to drink alcohol is 21 and there are still many people under 21 who have access to alcohol.
Simonelli said in the long run, she feels the change will be beneficial.
Students also discussed why their peers vape, with the main reasons being peer pressure, social media, depression or anxiety.
“We got the ‘cigarettes are bad’ talk,” said Luke Buckingham, a junior at Firestone Community Learning Center. “We didn’t get the vaping talk.”
Students said when it comes to finding a solution, having supportive teachers and peers would have more of an impact rather than a teacher or administrator punishing a student.
“Coming down on them doesn’t fix an addiction problem,” Buckingham said.
Simonelli said she has started talking to fifth-grade students about the dangers of vaping. Revere also has an after-school program for students struggling with vaping.
“Education is the key,” Montgomery said. “We have partnered with community organizations to have forums. We are always learning.”
For more information on the AHA’s initiative in regards to vaping, visit heart.org.

Panelists at the forum included, from left, Akron Public Schools Pupil Adjustment Program School Psychologist Erich Merkle, Revere Local Schools Superintendent Matthew Montgomery and Revere Local Schools At-Risk Student Coordinator Bonnie Simonelli. Photos: Eric Poston

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