Recap by Lucy Edmunds, PMHS Sophomore

On Monday January 14th, Dr. Richard Stumacher, a pulmonologist at Northern Westchester Hospital, came to speak to nearly 100 Pelham parents about the vaping epidemic among teens. The assembly was geared towards parents of both middle and high school students. Dr. Stumacher began these presentations in schools when he learned first-hand of the vaping epidemic hitting high schools and middle schools alike.

The assembly allowed parents and students to learn more about what vaping is, its effects on the brain compared to cigarettes, what signs of vaping parents may see in their child, and how to approach your kids if you suspect them of using e-cigarettes. A significant element of Dr. Schumacher’s presentation was the passing around of different vaping devices and products. This allowed parents to get a closer look, so that they could keep an eye out for these items.

His presentation began with going over the advertising strategies that companies such as JUUL™ use to target teens. The company began in 2015, and was originally depicted as a gradual strategy to quit smoking cigarettes. Many articles claim that JUUL™ is 95% safer to use than a regular cigarette. However, studies show that a teen using a vape is four times more likely to convert to generic cigarettes. JUUL™’s products are arguably targeted at teens. JUUL has come out with flavored pods in flavors such as mango, cucumber, creme (previously known as creme brûlée), and fruit. Dr. Stumacher argues that a person who is attempting to quit cigarettes wouldn’t have a preference whether they are inhaling mango or crème, and therefore the use of flavors is most certainly designed to appeal to young people. In an attempt to curb this epidemic, Westchester County has raised the age from 18 to 21 to be able to purchase JUUL™ products.

The addictive element in cigs, nicotine, is also found in vape products. Nicotine is a neurotransmitter that activates the brain to produce more dopamine. This makes nicotine highly addictive, especially among teenagers when the brain is more susceptible to addiction. Nicotine is known to be more addictive than crack cocaine and heroin. One JUUL™ pod contains just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, and one pod lasts for 100-200 ‘hits.’ It is not uncommon for regular vapers to go through one or more pods a day. Adults can easily become hooked on nicotine; people under the age of 18 are eighty percent more likely to become hooked.

Some adolescents might argue, “What’s the problem if I’m only inhaling vapor?” The truth is that while it may be too early in the life of these products for scientists to know the long-term effects of vaping from 30-year studies, there is proof that the chemicals in the vaping pods contain chemical additives that are dangerous to the lungs. While some of these additives are F.D.A. approved to consume in food, that does not mean they are safe for the lungs. As Dr. Schumacher says, “the only thing you should be breathing in is air.” Other dangers with vapes include the explosion of faulty batteries—in 2018, the first death due to the explosion of a vape battery was recorded.

Dr. Stumacher believes the dramatic increase in youth using vape products is the result of JUUL’s aggressive marketing tactics—the JUUL corporation controls 72% of the vaping market. The company’s net worth has now reached $16 billion, and continues to increase. In December of last year, Altria, the producers of Marlboro cigarettes invested $13 billion in JUUL for a 35% stake in the thriving company. Following this, JUUL™ divided the ensuing $2 billion profit among their 1,500 workers, amounting to a holiday bonus of roughly $1.3 million for each employee, further proving that JUUL™ has money to spare, and doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

Nicotine is not the only substance that is being vaped—70% of young people who vape are vaping T.H.C. concentrates. T.H.C. is the high-inducing (just confirming this is the right term) substance in cannabis, and can be extracted into concentrates. The extract is then mixed with an oil or wax base, and can be inhaled through a ‘wax pen’ or other vapes. A traditional marijuana ‘blunt’ (this may be just me, but I don’t know what a blunt is.  Another way to put this would be “Traditional plant marijuana. . .”) is composed of around 10% T.H.C., while a vaporized version ranges from 70%-99% T.H.C., resulting in a much stronger ‘high’ feeling. It is much easier to over-consume T.H.C. through a pen than it is through smoking a blunt. Not to mention these oil/wax concentrates or e-juices come in a variety of different flavors, ranging anywhere from bubble gum to cola.

 It is difficult to comprehend how far this epidemic has gone. Studies show that 13.3% of eighth graders, 23.9% of tenth graders, and 27.8% of twelfth graders have used vape products in the last 30 days.However, Dr. Stumacher added that when he does his classroom talks, students always say they believe more than half of their peers participate in the fad.

In 2015 youth cigarette use reached an all-time low—11% of the U.S. youth population smoked. And yet, from 2011-2015, studies showed a 967% increase in the number of high school students who currently use e-cigarettes. Most recently, the trend continues to soar—the largest year-to-year increase in substance use ever recorded among 10th – 12th graders was between 2017 – 2018 when the Monitoring the Future Study (an ongoing, national study which surveys approximately 50,000 8th , 10th and 12th graders every year) was released in December 2018 and showed a 75% increase in youth vaping in the last 30 days among high schoolers. This translates into 1.3 million more youth smokers of vape products in 2018 than 2017.

Dr. Stumacher ended with ways for a parent to his/her to their child about vaping. He recommends the “Ask, don’t tell” policy. Instead of telling a child to stop a bad behavior, ask them how and why they may be behaving that way. Teens may feel spoken down to, and disrespected when told what to do, and therefore more likely to continue the bad habit. Dr. Stumacher recommends setting aside a short, uninterrupted period of time, such as a car ride, to talk to your kids about this topic and any other uncomfortable topics. Car rides are ideal as the child knows there will be an end to the conversation and do not have to make direct eye contact.

If you have concerns about your child, you may also utilize the Pelham School District’s in-school resources by emailing Kelley-Anne Lonergan, Student Assistance Counselor, at klonergan@pelhamschools.org. Several handouts and slides from Dr. Stumacher’s presentation are available at the Pelham Together website at http://www.pelhamtogether.org/resources/substance-abuse/vaping/