Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams said that the menace of nicotine vaping has now reached into the city’s grade schools.
“They look exactly like flash drives,” he said. “The cartridges have the equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. So kids are walking around buying these, and selling them to friends at school. Vaping has made its way into middle schools, and is trickling into elementary schools.”
Vaping nicotine is highly addicting and causes seizures among young people. The Food and Drug Administration said it is reviewing 35 cases of seizures connected to vaping devices.
Teenagers, who are often struggling with mental health issues, get a strong dose of dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical, every time they hit a nicotine-based vaporizer. This makes kids get hooked faster and have a harder time quitting.
Even worse, kids in Tucson are substituting marijuana cartridges for the nicotine cartridges, and have been charged with felony possession of marijuana.
The Pima County Health Department and Pima County School Superintendent’s Office announced a joint awareness campaign about the dangers of vaping for youth.
The 2018 Arizona Youth Survey shows nearly 47% of Pima County high school seniors have tried an e-cigarette or vaping device at least once in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report in February 2019 finding that teens are consuming nicotine at nearly the same rate as they were 30 years ago. Decades of research show that nicotine harms brain development and we know that the brain can develop through age 26.
“We have a real deal problem,” Williams said. “The real concern is what the big corporations are doing. They are selling 283 types of flavors that are meant for kids –like cotton candy or sour apple. They don’t taste like a cigarette.”
Some 17 Pima school districts have joined the campaign so far. In addition, the University of Arizona will go into individual school sites and track student vape usage as part of a $1 million research grant.
The state legislature is making things worse by easing anti-tobacco laws. Rep. Vince Leach, a loathed anti-consumer official, actually introduced a bill (SB 1147) backed by Big Tobacco that would end tobacco-free campuses in Arizona. It would allow people age 21 or older to bring vaping devices and tobacco on campuses, and smoke around other young people attending school. The Arizona School Board Association opposes this dangerous bill.
“It truly takes the entire community to stop nicotine uptake and addiction in our young people. A tobacco-free generation is in reach, and we hope you will join us in keeping our teens informed and these products out of their hands,” says the Pima County Health Department.