HB joins the fight against vaping

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Hannah Riseman

The cardiovascular system is painted on the wall outside the biology classrooms. The nicotine in vape and e-cigarette products have been proven to negatively impact the lungs, contributing to the concern the vaping epidemic will affect the health of youth for years to come. “There is an epidemic in our school of under-aged nicotine consumption… I think that this year that they did a really great job by bringing in Breathe NH… it was much more effective: there was a lot of data, statistics, infographics and [comparisons] especially to cigarettes," said Mary Martin '20, student council president.

Hannah Riseman and Ella Mouradian

Across the country, the use of vape and e-cigarette products has been on the rise. The percent of students vaping recently rose from 11.7 in 2017 to 27.5 in 2019, a drastic increase Hollis and Brookline haven’t been immune to. On Nov. 13 and Nov. 21, Hollis-Brookline High School welcomed guest speaker Kim Coronis from Breathe New Hampshire as a part of the school’s strategy to combat the epidemic. 

Principal Rick Barnes, a proponent of Coronis’s vist, said, “I hope that [students] learn some facts to counter what’s out there, because there are a lot of misconceptions.” Coronis’s 45-minute presentation did just that, focusing on revealing the myths related to vaping, the first being that e-liquid only contains water vapor. As she explained, chemical-based e-liquid is heated over a metal coil in the device to produce the aerosol which is then inhaled and can cause lung irritation. 

After explaining the dangers of the product itself, Coronis mentioned that the market is relatively unregulated by the government with over 450 brands and 1500 unique flavors available for purchase. “There has not been a lot of testing done on e-cigarette products… bought by consumers,” said Coronis. She emphasized that a lack of clear testing and regulation could lead to dangerous additives, such as Vitamin E acetate, which has been officially found in all tested patients with a recent lung injury related to usage of such products according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). 

As of Nov. 20, there have been 2290 cases reported and 49 related deaths due to e-cigarette and vape related lung injury (EVLI). Companies are now prohibited from adding Vitamin E acetate, usually used as a thickening agent in vapes containing THC or nicotine, in newly manufactured products as the Food and Drug Administration investigates further. At this time, the CDC suggests that, “[p]eople should not use THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly from informal sources like friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers.”

The presentation also elaborated on the connection between cigarettes and vaping products in terms of nicotine. As Coronis noted, a single JUUL pod is approximately equal to 21 to 40 cigarettes, more than a pack of cigarettes. 

Four years ago, wellness teacher Maria St. Pierre added a unit on vaping to her curriculum after she began to receive questions on the topic while discussing the health hazards of smoking. As e-cigarettes were marketed to those trying to quit smoking, St. Pierre noted that the initial attitude towards the products was that they were less dangerous than cigarettes and, “lot better than inhaling all that tar and nicotine.” 

But as the formerly unknown effects of vaping are slowly revealed, the concern that students who use such products are now addicted to nicotine are becoming more pertinent. St. Pierre has noticed, based on student feedback, that the conversations about nicotine addiction have helped encourage more awareness about the ill-effects of vaping. 

However, as the school takes steps towards educating the student body on the dangers of vaping to dissuade students from using in the future, many believe that those already addicted can’t be left behind. “I think we need to be more proactive at this point… So was [the presentation] effective? I think it was. But I think we need to go one step beyond and talk about ways they can beat the addiction,” said St. Pierre. 

Student Lily Roberge ‘22 agreed that the presentation was effective in its goal of educating the student body, stating, “I wasn’t aware of most of the effects vaping can have on your body until after I listened to the presentation.” But she also recognized the struggle that adults are facing in combating the epidemic: regardless of what information is presented, kids have a tendency to laugh off the potential ill-effects. “Most of the students in the school aren’t aware of the effects of vaping; they take the subject very lightly. This has made the vaping problem in our school more serious,” said Roberge. 

Although the disregard may seem disheartening, anecdotal evidence has pointed towards the fact that education has already helped prevent students from vaping. “The big comments [I receive] are ‘we already know it’s bad for us’. They kind of laugh it off, like we already know that. I’ve even had kids come to me like, Mrs. St. Pierre why do you even bother teaching us this about this, kids are going to do what kids are going to do. But at the same time, I’ve had some feedback from last year’s class about this where a girl… convinced her friend not to vape because of information,” said St. Pierre. 

Coronis’s visit was an important step in ensuring that all students have access to the information they need to make an informed decision. But vaping isn’t a school specific problem. “School has their piece, which is the educational piece, but there is a community piece too,” said Barnes.

According to the 2017 New Hampshire Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 24% of students surveyed across the state used e-cigarette or vape products in the last 30 days while the national average was only 13%. The 9% difference is especially staggering considering NH was one of the first states to stop the sales of e-cigarettes to minors in 2010 through House Bill 1546. 

Today the state as a whole is taking more steps to ensure e-cigarettes and vaping products stay out of the hands of young people. In Sept. Governor Chris Sununu signed the NH state budget which included raising the age at which someone can purchase tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 19. Other towns, such as Dover, Keene and Newmarket instituted ordinances this year that raised the legal age to 21 in an effort to counter the current rates of vaping in high school and college campuses.

Overall, this year’s presentation was much more well-received than the assembly on vaping the year prior. “There is an epidemic in our school of under-aged nicotine consumption… I think that this year that they did a really great job by bringing in Breathe NH… it was much more effective: there was a lot of data, statistics, infographics and [comparisons], especially to cigarettes,” said Student Council President, Mary Martin ‘20. 

At the end of the presentation, the administration reminded the students that any student caught using e-cigarettes of vaping products on school grounds will automatically receive a three-to-ten day suspension. However, if looking for help, please know that there are resources available through the school nurse’s office and the school counseling office. For more information on the vaping, visit the Breath NH website or CDC page on e-cigarettes