Local Coalition Attends Roundtable, Addresses Rising Use of E-Cigarettes by Youth
Amid growing concern over deaths and lung injury associated with e-cigarettes, use of these products among high school and middle school students is increasing—a concern Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria (SAPCA) Coordinator Emma Beall and other regional advocates discussed during a roundtable hosted by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s office on October 18.
Since July 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been investigating cases of severe lung injury associated with “vaping,” the practice of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol produced by an e-cigarette. As of November 5, there has been a total of 2,051 cases of lung injury and 39 deaths associated with the use of e-cigarette or vaping products in the United States. Of those, there have been 72 cases and one death in Virginia—31 cases in the Northern Health Region, which includes Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William.
According to new studies published in the Journal of American Medical Association, over five million students surveyed in the U.S. said they had vaped within the past month—up from 3.6 million last year.
At the roundtable, students, teachers, counselors, advocates and parents shared information about the work their jurisdictions are doing to address vaping among youth.
Of particular concern is the accessibility of vaping products to teens. Youth at the event shared how e-cigarettes are sold in thousands of youth-friendly flavors at convenience stores they visit.
“Vaping is constantly marketed towards youth nowadays, whether it be through social media or through peers,” agrees Kate Harbour, a freshman at T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus and a SAPCA board member. “Wherever you look online or otherwise, you’ll probably see someone vaping.”
To cut through the marketing and accessibility, SAPCA shared with roundtable participants the multiple approaches SAPCA is using to educate Alexandria about the dangers of vaping, particularly among teens.
“One area SAPCA is focusing on is educating teens, parents and community members about the short-term health risks that can result from these products,” says Beall.
In addition to severe lung injury associated with vaping, other risks include:
- Among the thousands of chemicals in e-liquids are carcinogens (substances that cause cancer) like formaldehyde, lead and arsenic.
- The aerosols produced by e-cigarettes when e-liquid is heated contain cancer causing chemicals.
- E-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, which is highly addictive. The brain is especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction between the ages of 18-25, and teens exposed while the brain is still developing are more likely to develop an addiction. Nicotine use among adolescents is also associated with increases in risk-taking, impulsivity, long-term cognitive impairment, and later substance abuse, mental health problems and higher levels of addiction in adulthood.
- Second hand aerosols, similar to secondhand smoke, release harmful substances such as nicotine, heavy metals, ultrafine particles that can fall deep into the lungs, cancerous chemicals and volatile organic compounds. Exposure can lead to cancer, respiratory infections, and make asthma conditions worse.
- Third hand aerosols, the mixture of chemicals in e-cigarette or vape pen aerosols that remain on surfaces and in dust even after the aerosol is gone, can react with other chemicals in the environment to form toxic chemicals that people and animals can inhale, ingest or absorb through skin exposure.
- There have been multiple reports of e-cigarette explosion-related injuries and fires.
Those who developed severe lung injury associated with vaping reported symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and fatigue that grew worse over days or weeks and led to difficulty breathing and, in many cases, hospitalization.
“It is concerning that people are using these products without having a full picture of potential health harms these products can cause to both users and bystanders,” says Beall.
SAPCA shares these dangers and other information through a range of efforts, including classroom presentations and assemblies in both public and private schools and distributing packets about substance use and abuse to coaches and other youth serving providers aimed at helping them discuss the dangers of e-cigarettes and other substances with athletes.
In cooperation with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS), SAPCA also formed a student-led vaping work group to brainstorm ways to address vaping systemically and is partnering with the Opportunity Program, a collaborative effort between ACPS and the Court Services Unit, to educate students caught using substances at school.
SAPCA is also coordinating with the Alexandria Health Department (AHD), which is closely monitoring lung injury related to e-cigarette use in Alexandria. AHD epidemiologists are working with regional epidemiologists, healthcare providers and community partners to identify potential cases and exposures as well as keeping in communication with Inova Alexandria Hospital staff to ensure familiarity with symptoms and reporting procedures.
For teens wanting to quit using tobacco or vaping products, Beall says there are a variety of options. Youth ages 13 and up can call 1-800-QUITNOW or sign up via QuitNow.net/Virginia. Smokefree.gov has a texting service and app for teens and offers the opportunity to speak to a counselor. TruthInitiative.org also has an app and texting service.
For more information about the roundtable, read an article about the event in Washington Post. For more about AHD efforts and what you should do if you recently used an e-cigarette or vaping product and have symptoms like those reported, visit alexandriava.gov/Health. For more information about SAPCA and getting involved in preventing substance misuse among teens, visit healthierAlexandria.org/SAPCA.