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Snuffing out teen vaping

The Catch My Breath campaign will soon be launching in middle schools of Surry County. While traditional tobacco use among kids has declined, the use of e-cigarettes or vapes has risen year to year and is finding a younger audience.

Dr. Steven Kelder from University of Texas School of Public Health developed Coordinated Approach to Children’s Health (or CATCH) to fight back. CATCH is a whole health program, but now officials have launched Catch My Breath in what has been heralded as the first of its kind evidence-based vaping prevention program.

The group said if they launched into every school across the nation, they could reduce the number of seventh graders who start vaping by 153,600 per year. They would accomplish this with a simple straightforward message: vaping is untested, unregulated, and unhealthy to the developing mind and body.

Think of it as reverse peer pressure where the message being communicated is that it is outside the norm to be a smoker or vaper. Gone are the days of the ubiquitous Marlboro Man billboards along the highway or a cartoonish Joe Camel hocking his wares to anyone who could see him.

Smoking in the United States has been on a precipitous decline for some time with the percentage of the population who identify as smokers dropping in a recent CDC report from the 2005 rate of 20.9% of adults down to 12.5% as of 2020.

When one door closes, another opens, and the tobacco industry wasted little time — nature abhors a vacuum in finding new transmission methods for their products and new markets of customers to sell them to with flavored varieties meant to lure in kids.

When the e-cigarette entered the mix, they were first marketed to some as a stop smoking aid. At the very least, electronic cigarettes were touted as a safer option to the traditional cigarette. While it is true there is no tar nor any ember with which to start a house fire if a smoker falls asleep in bed with her Virginia Slim lit, that by no means makes it a safe habit to start.

Perception and peer pressure used to be aligned on the other side of this fight. For decades, the smoker was presented as cool, sexy, alluring, sophisticated, and debonair. From ladies with the skinny Audrey Hepburn cigarette holders to James Bond after he got the girl, the cigarette was the answer to everything good or bad. The stars of old Hollywood were even extolling the health benefits of smoking.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration wrote that, “A primary concern is that many young people view vaping as socially acceptable. In the past decade, vaping has increased among all age and demographic groups and is more popular than traditional cigarettes among high school students.”

“Another study found that youth said they vaped because their friends, peers, and siblings did, and they thought it was cool, whereas they acknowledged the harms and negative components of smoking cigarettes.”

How far the world has come said Charlotte Reeves, outreach coordinator for the Surry County Office of Substance Abuse Recovery. She recently completed her own Catch My Breath training and is very bringing the campaign to Surry County.

She has been educating students on the dangers of vaping as part of her outreach efforts surrounding substance use disorder in youth. Red Ribbon Week in October took Reeves and her allies into middle schools to talk about drugs, but she could not pass up that chance to fold in some useful vaping information too.

Kids were introduced to Popcorn Lung and learned about the hundreds of flavored vapes that have come on that market in recent years. Not a movie theatre treat, popcorn lung is bronchiolitis obliterans, or a lung disease caused by a build-up of scar tissue in the lungs. A possible link may have been found between the disease and a chemical called diacetyl which is often found in vapes.

What is really in those vapes is anyone’s guess as the vape industry is almost fully unregulated. The National Youth Tobacco Survey polled teens asking them what is in their vapes and the results varied. It found 66% of respondents said there was only flavoring in their vape, 13.2% said nicotine, 5.8% thought they were smoking marijuana, 1.3% said other, and a whole 13.7% of the teens polled said they had no clue at all what was in their vapes.

Add on that “other” set onto the “I don’t know” and that means 15% of kids vaping have no clue what is in their vapes. Among the substances to be found in vaping mixtures are dicamba, iohexol, and avobenzone are.

A study published in the journal ‘Chemical Research in Toxicology’ said, “Researchers at Johns Hopkins University detected thousands of chemicals in electronic cigarettes that were not disclosed by manufacturers. The team discovered nearly 2,000 chemicals, including caffeine, three different industrial chemicals, and a pesticide. A vast majority of the chemicals found were unidentified.”

Don’t call them quitters, youth are more likely to pick up the habit and stick with it, according to a 2019 survey of youth who said that in the last thirty days they had vaped.

That study found 28% of high schoolers and 11% of middle schoolers reported vaping in the past month, a rate that is two to six times greater than the percentage of adults (25-44) who reported vaping.

Young people were asked whether their age group peers approve of vaping and 41% said their peers did, as opposed to 27% who approved of cigarette smoking.

While attitudes on cigarette smoking have changed over the past few decades, the temptation remains for kids when they still view smoking as something desirable. Catch My Breath aims to put evidence into kids’ hands on the real dangers to their bodies so that the ultimate decision will be theirs alone, and a well-informed one.



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