Years ago, there was a massive effort to crack down on kids and cigarette smoking. The federal government targeted tobacco companies for marketing their products to minors.
Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration said it’s now taking action against the makers of electronic cigarettes.
“What’s so fruity?”
It wasn’t all that long ago that Shawn Chrystal had no idea what vaping was, but that changed one day during her son’s junior year in high school.
“I smelled something in his bedroom and I kept saying, ‘What’s so fruity?'” Chrystal said.
The next day, Chrystal discovered vaping equipment in her son’s room.
She said after her son wouldn’t give up e-cigarettes, she and her husband took the door off of his bedroom.
Vaping trend among teens
While that may seem extreme, Chrystal is just one of a growing number of parents whose children use these battery-powered electronic cigarettes.
“It has surpassed cigarette smoking, traditional cigarette smoking,” said Erica Horner, with the Mahoning County District Board of Health. “This is the number one tobacco product used by the youth at this point.”
If that doesn’t shock you, this might.
“In Ohio, one in five high school students and one in eight middle school students have tried these products,” Horner said.
Horner said e-cigs heat up liquid contained in a handheld cartridge — some of them as small as a computer flash drive — known as a Juul.
The liquid is often laced with chemical flavorings. The cartridges can also contain small amounts of nicotine and other drugs, like marijuana.
Products marketed to kids
It was initially marketed as a product to help you stop smoking. The small handheld battery-powered devices allow people to inhale heated water vapor instead of carcinogenic smoke.
The FDA is cracking down on retail and online stores that sell Juul. It says it’s readily accessible to children under the age of 18.
“They’re colorful. The flavors — there’s over 8,000 flavors like fruit, mint and chocolate. These are directly marketed to the teenagers,” Horner said.
Chrystal has seen evidence of that.
“My son spent $300 on whatever they’re called, the vape thingies. Three hundred dollars,” she said.
She believes they’re marketed directly to kids.
“It just sucks ’em right in and they don’t even know, they don’t even realize what’s happening,” Chrystal said.
More and more, teenagers are taking the devices to school.
Administrators at Liberty admitted they’ve caught a number of students vaping in restrooms just in the last few months, even though it’s illegal for minors to buy e-cigarettes on their own.
“They know it’s wrong and it’s almost enticing, and then, furthermore, now they have all these options on how they can disguise it,” Principal Akesha Joseph said.
Including that sly tool resembling a flash drive.
By law in Ohio, e-cigarettes are not to be sold to juveniles unless they’re accompanied by a parent. Apparently, that doesn’t stop kids from going online to get them.
“And by checking a box saying that they’re over 18 could be the way that they’re being purchased,” Horner said.
“We know it’s taking place, we know it’s harmful,” Superintendent Joseph Nohra said.
Nohra said the district will be hiring a new school resource officer to target those using prohibited items such as drugs, tobacco and e-cigarettes.
“We want to bring a trained professional to work with our kids on issues dealing with diversion, just like this.”
While this comes at a time when many districts are focused on keeping schools safe from violence, administrators at Liberty said they also need to be watching out for their students’ health and well-being.
“These are minors and we have to protect them from things that they are maybe a little bit more ignorant to,” Akesha Joseph said.
That’s something parents like Chrystal said they’re worried about, too.
“As a mom, I have to protect my child from whatever.”