By Alyssa Seidman
A large spark. An explosion. A puff of black smoke. These factors are the common beginnings of an electrical fire, as well as what occurs if a vaping device becomes overheated.
This was one of the many dangers outlined by Sgt. Sean Cassidy of the National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, during his presentation to a group of 30 North Shore parents Monday night.
“Vaping is quickly becoming the number one issue in our schools, surpassing underage drinking, and is trending upward consistently,” he said.
The presentation, sponsored by the North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse, covered the various types of e-cigarettes, the risks associated with vaping, and how they work.
“The objective tonight is to educate you, so you know what these [devices] look like, because I’m sure you’ve seen some of these things in your home,” said Joanna Commander, a school board trustee and community representative for NSCASA.
E-cigarettes are often used in place of tobacco cigarettes, and release doses of water vapor that may or may not include nicotine. Cassidy debunked a common misconception about water vapor e-cigs versus aerosol e-cigs. In the case of the latter, aerosol devices contain harmful particles like nicotine, lead, nickel, and other substances linked to health risks such as cancer, heart disease and birth defects.
The effects of vaping worsen, he said, when users introduce illicit drugs into the mix by rigging devices and filling the cartridges with THC, methamphetamines, and ephedrine, a stimulant. “They learn how to jerry-rig these devices by searching videos on YouTube,” Cassidy said. Using a drug-testing kit called an itemizer, he is able to swab a device and determine if an outside substance was introduced.
Alison Camardella, the sector group representative for NSCASA’s Board of Directors, said that local police precincts offer a similar technology for residents who are curious about these devices, particularly juuls, small vapes that resemble a USB drive and have gained popularity with younger generations. The testing service is anonymous, and it takes up to 10 days to get the results.
Cassidy also discussed the obvious health risks associated with aerosol devices, as they give off harmful particles when a user inhales on the mouthpiece. Vaping has been shown to cause black tongue, canker sores, and popcorn lung in more severe cases.
The average e-cigarette user does not need to excuse themselves from a social setting to step outside for a quick smoke. Rather, they can take a hit for as little or as long as they want, which prompted one person to ask if vaping is causing users to get addicted to nicotine at a faster rate than regular smokers. “The dependency differs because you dictate how much nicotine you’re getting,” Cassidy said.
After the presentation, parents discussed how the schools could snuff out the smoking devices, suggesting aerosol-detection mechanisms in the bathrooms, which the Long Beach City School District has considered. Other suggestions included integrating anti-vape language into the curriculum and getting students to sign a waiver proving their understanding of the policies and consequences associated with vaping on school grounds.
“The school district is well aware of the problem that exists, and there are ongoing discussions about considering vapor-sensing devices, but this is a tough challenge,” Commander said.
Tina Franklin, a Glenwood Landing parent, said the school should take greater action against students who vape. “The consequences should be severe because they’re at school to learn,” she said. “It’s important because it might affect the other kids in class and be sort of a deterrent. This should not be happening in the schools.”
Franklin has two teenage boys at the high school, and agreed that the message should be spread into every school in the district as a telling cautionary tale. “They should see this at a younger age before they get to high school,” she said.