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Photo courtesy of Erika Schmack

A vape pen held by Officer Henley.

That Puff Can Cost More Than You Think

November 21, 2022

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For every action, there is a consequence. Sure, students have been told this repeatedly over the years, but the increasing number of teens doing drugs–even at school–means that many of them could benefit from a reminder. FCHS School Resource Officer Tre Ayers came into Elizabeth Pellicane’s Social/Media & You class on Oct. 6 to explain the dangers of illegal drugs. The ensuing class discussion raised a variety of questions and facts that students might want to think about before they consider taking that next puff or popping a pill.

The Dangers of E-cigarettes & Vaping
According to The Food and Drug Administration, over 2.1 million high schoolers (14%) and 380,000 middle schoolers (3%) reported using e-cigarettes in the first nine months of 2022. Why do students smoke e-cigarettes? “It can give you this nice, light-headed buzz,” said one FCHS student who wanted to remain anonymous.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has scientifically proven that smoking e-cigarettes is bad for you, that they are highly addictive and get very toxic over time. These chemicals release cancer-causing particles into the lungs which can damage them. One of the dangerous chemicals being released into the body by smoking e-cigarettes is aldehydes, a class of chemicals that can cause lung disease as well as heart diseases such as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. According to Lung.org, e-cigarettes contain acrolein, a chemical used for killing weeds. E-cigarettes also contain formaldehyde, a very dangerous and toxic chemical that is used to make fertilizer and paper, as well as to preserve dead bodiescorpses.

Smoking, in general, can not only damage your lungs, but it can also affect your immune system. A study by the Department of Integrative Neurophysiology at the University of Amsterdam found that smoking at a younger age, while the brain is still developing, can have negative effects on brain development and mental health, making psychiatric disorders and cognitive impairment more likely. Nicotine itself can undermine a lot of brain functions including memory, attention spans, and learning, as well as have a negative effect on self-control and decision-making.

When teens smoke, they rarely consider the dangers that come with it. As a sheriff deputy for Fluvanna County for eight years and an SRO at FCHS for two years, Ayers has seen the drug problem in both adults and teens. He said that the most common types of vapes he has confiscated at FCHS are the brands Vuse, Puff Bars, and Elf Bars.

What most students don’t realize, Ayers said, is that when you’re smoking nicotine vapes, the nicotine continues to affect your body for 24-72 hours. In addition, vaping can release many toxic chemicals, substances, and compounds into the body, so “vaping is not safe for children or adults,” he explained.

Hidden Dangers in Marijuana Use
Marijuana use at the high school continues to be a problem that is not without consequences. Ayers noted that using marijuana during the teen years in particular can disrupt brain development and shorten attention spans. And while some may think smoking marijuana is healthier than smoking e-cigarettes due to the lack of nicotine, the fact is that marijuana vaping can cause many illnesses including popcorn lung and lung infections.

Popcorn lung, an uncommon disease caused by excessive smoking or breathing in a chemical found in e-cigarettes, occurs when too much scar tissue builds up in the lungs, causing the restriction of airflow and causing difficulty breathing. There is no cure for popcorn lung, so sufferers may need life-long care to help manage the symptoms which include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, fever, night sweats, and skin rashes.
In addition, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, some vapes can contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil, which is four times more potent than top shelf marijuana. They note that daily use of this will disrupt brain development, the immune system, and possibly contribute to asthma. This is particularly important for teens, because according to The National Library of Medicine, “Disruption to brain development at an early stage can potentially alter chemically-coded neural networks and can affect behavior in later life.”

The New England Journal of Medicine describes vaping nicotine or marijuana as “a gateway drug,” meaning it makes it more likely that the person will utilize other illegal substances, like heroin or opioids. Why is that a bad thing? You’re potentially opening yourself up to fatal drugs, one of which is fentanyl.

Fentanyl & Other Opioids
Few students seem to be aware of the dangers of fentanyl and other opioids, like oxycodone, which is prescribed by physicians to treat severe pain. Used illegally, however, only a small amount can be fatal. “Even just inhaling it could cause an overdose,” said Ayers. In fact, nearly 110,000 Americans died of fentanyl-related overdoses in 2021 alone.

Dealers are able to distribute fentanyl because it can take many unrecognizable forms such as nasal sprays or eye drops, or be dropped onto paper or small candies. Many people who died from fentanyl overdose didn’t realize they were ingesting fentanyl since drug dealers often “cut” it into other drugs.

Signs of a potential fentanyl overdose include having blue lips, blue fingertips, difficulty breathing, and cold and clammy skin. Left untreated, fentanyl overdose can relax your breathing so much that you may actually stop breathing altogether. Ayers said the most common age group in which he’s seen overdoses is people in their early 20s, many of whom overdosed on fentanyl-laced cocaine.

He also noted that most deputies and all rescue squads carry Narcan, just in case they run into an overdose case. Police departments get Narcan for free, but anyone can get it in a pharmacy without a prescription for around $150. However, Narcan doesn’t always work in cases. Some incidents take two or even three doses of Narcan to revive a person. Narcan lasts two to three years before expiring. However, it’s not practical for the average person to carry Narcan.

Why Do Students Do Drugs?
While addiction is one explanation, social acceptance or peer pressure is another factor when it comes to drug use. Many students at FCHS say they’re only into vaping and other substances because their friends persuaded them. “But what people don’t know is that everyone’s body handles drugs differently,” said Ayers.

So if there’s no nicotine, marijuana, or fentanyl in that vape (and there’s no way to know for sure), you’re good? Many students at FCHS say they just vape because they enjoy the flavoring. However, as noted above, vapes can consist of a variety of substances, none of which are actively good for your body.

So if you’ve gotten into the vaping craze, you might want to think about quitting now, before your life goes up in smoke.

For tips on how to stop vaping, visit these links: https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/quitting-smoking-vaping/quitting-vaping-here-are-5-tips-handling-nicotine
https://teen.smokefree.gov/quit-vaping/how-to-quit-vaping

At the end of Ayers’ presentation to the Social/Media & You class, one student asked Ayers for his final advice regarding drugs. “Every choice has its consequences,” he said, adding that while it may seem easy to start taking drugs, “it’s even harder to stop.”

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