In Portsmouth: Becoming a part of the solution on vaping

Portsmouth Prevention Coalition hosts panel discussion

By Kristen Ray
Posted 11/12/19

PORTSMOUTH — Islanders filled the Portsmouth Middle School library last Thursday, Nov. 7, as they gathered for a panel discussion on the vaping epidemic sponsored by the Portsmouth …

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In Portsmouth: Becoming a part of the solution on vaping

Portsmouth Prevention Coalition hosts panel discussion


PORTSMOUTH — Islanders filled the Portsmouth Middle School library last Thursday, Nov. 7, as they gathered for a panel discussion on the vaping epidemic sponsored by the Portsmouth Prevention Coalition (PPC). 

Moderated by PPC coordinator Corey Silvia, panelists for the night’s discussion included Teri Gregg, Portsmouth High School student assistance counselor; Dr. James Chen, Portsmouth resident and urgent care physician; Ben Chase, PHS student-athlete and youth-to-youth peer leader; and Sean Palumbo, Mt. Hope High School senior member of Students Taking Action Against Negative Decisions (STAAND).

From the products teens are using to the different ways to help them quit, audience members got the facts about the vaping epidemic — and how they can be a part of the solution. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, vaping amongst teens has doubled since 2017 — yet in Rhode Island, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase or use e-cigarette and similar devices. If that’s the case, how are these underage Portsmouth teens even getting a hold of these products?

“A lot of them have older siblings or friends buying it for underclassmen,” said Mr. Palumbo, who has seen it happen at his own school. 

It does not help, Mr. Silvia added, that the industry is vastly unregulated. The age-verification process to purchase online is virtually nonexistent, and teens still have the capability to mix their own e-liquids and juices at home. 

Not only that, but many of the products available cater directly to youths — vape pens that resemble USB drives and Apple products; mouthpieces that dangle like drawstrings on a sweatshirt. They’re designed to blend in, making it easy for teens to vape whenever and wherever throughout the school day. 

“All of these devices are really engineered for efficiency,” Mr. Silvia said. 

They are not, however, always made to last. On average, Mr. Silvia said, teens are going through a pod every one tosthree days — a scary amount, when considering that some of them contain as many as three packs of cigarettes’ worth of nicotine. 

According to Dr. Chen, teens have become addicted as quickly as within a week of using. 

“The first couple times they enjoy,” he said. “They don’t even realize they’re starting to get dependent — not even chemically, but behaviorally as well.”

When it becomes deadly 

As of Nov. 5 of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received over 2,000 illness and 39 fatality reports nationwide in association with vaping. With the risks clearly defined, some wanted to know what warning signs they can look out for when in their teens — but according to Dr. Chen, there are simply still too many unknowns. 

“Whether those deaths, they are a direct cause of the vaping, or the vaping is a side-note … They’re still trying to figure those cases out,” he said. 

Yet researchers are making headway. At least some of deaths, Dr. Chen said, are believed to be linked to vitamin E acetate — an alternative solvent some companies, such as Dank Vapes, have used in place of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol. 

As for the THC-related cases, Mr. Silvia said, those fatalities were largely the result of home experiments gone wrong — “people creating their own THC solutions, with different solvents, with different chemicals.

“Then all of a sudden … death happens.”

Helping teens quit

Though the Food and Drug Administration aims to have regulations in place by 2020, and Gov. Gina Raimondo has placed a 120-day ban on flavored products beginning early last month, action against the vaping crisis, Mr. Silvia said, is not moving quickly enough. 

“At the end of the day, we have to understand, we, in this room — as parents, as community members — have more power in influencing each other in using these devices than the government really does,” he said. 

According to some panelists, however, the media attention surrounding the dangers of vaping appear to be helping. Mr. Chase noted that, compared to last year, the high school bathrooms have been locked less frequently, while Ms. Gregg has found that many returning juniors and seniors managed to break the habit over the summer. 

“On a positive note, they’re scared,” she said. 

Yet there are a still a number of them who need additional help. Ms. Gregg has steered some students to the Quit with Brown cessation program; others, she discovered, have found success with a peer-to-peer texting option. 

Parents can also be a part of the solution. As a concerned father himself, Dr. Chen said one of the best ways for parents to engage their child in a conversation about vaping is to become educated on the subject.

“It’s kind of hard to chastise your child about vaping when you yourself know nothing about it,” he said. 

Whatever parents do, however, all four panelists agreed: Don’t get angry. 

“It actually encourages rebellion,” Mr. Palumbo said. 

But by working together and becoming a more informed community, Mr. Silvia said, Portsmouth can begin to tackle the vaping epidemic. 

“If we’re all on the same page, we’re going to automatically live in a healthier environment.”

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