Police: Teen vaping a growing concern

RCS PTA hosts meeting to alert, educate parents

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published April 3, 2018

 Rochester police officer Amy Drehmer, who also acts as a school liaison officer, talks about the dangers, devices and consequences of vaping during a special presentation for parents and students March 28 at Rochester Adams High School.

Rochester police officer Amy Drehmer, who also acts as a school liaison officer, talks about the dangers, devices and consequences of vaping during a special presentation for parents and students March 28 at Rochester Adams High School.

Photo by Brandy Baker

  Bottles of vaping liquid, which can contain nicotine,  THC, or any mix of dangerous chemicals and often carry a  fruity smell, sit on a table for guests to examine.

Bottles of vaping liquid, which can contain nicotine, THC, or any mix of dangerous chemicals and often carry a fruity smell, sit on a table for guests to examine.

Photo by Brandy Baker

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ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — Using electronic devices that look like everyday items, teens across metro Detroit are ingesting and exhaling nearly undetectable vapors in school bathrooms, hallways, and even during class, right in front of their teachers.

Community and school leaders say they’re seeing a dramatic rise in vaping — a form of electronic cigarettes — among teens across metro Detroit, including within the Rochester Community Schools district.

“It’s happening on a daily basis … at all the high schools, in all communities. It’s not just Rochester Community Schools,” said Rochester police officer Amy Drehmer, who serves as liaison officer for the district. “I have liaison friends throughout Oakland County, and they are all dealing with the same problem. It is rampant in all the schools.”

To alert the public about the rise in vaping among teens, and the potential hazards, the district’s Parent Teacher Association Council recently held an informational session on March 28 at Rochester Adams High School.

“People are concerned … it’s very prevalent, and we just wanted to make sure that everyone heard how horrible it is for you, and what’s in it,” said PTA Council President Barb Rill. “… we’re hoping that we can rely on parents to go home and know what to look for now, and talk to their kids about it.”

E-cigarettes, and other vaping devices, produce an aerosol that’s inhaled after heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals — and in some cases, highly concentrated marijuana.

Despite being touted by creators as a device used to help adult smokers kick the habit, vaping companies produce a variety of fruity- and candy-flavored liquid products, such as cherry or cotton candy, that Drehmer said are attractive to youths.

“It’s the new substance that they can use to get what they think is somewhat of a high. They’ll say, ‘When I inhale the nicotine off of a vape, I get a buzz for 45 minutes.’ They are always striving for that little bit of a buzz,” she said.

Vaping devices are easily overlooked by parents and educators because they are made to look like ink pens or flash drives, and even charge when plugged into a laptop. They’re small enough to fit inside the palm of a hand, are easily hidden inside a pocket or shirt sleeve, and emit little to no odor, making them very easy to use and extremely hard to detect. The most popular devices among local teens, according to Drehmer, are called “Juuls” or “Juul Killers.”

Although vaping devices and e-cigarettes are widely considered a safer alternative to cigarettes, Drehmer said they still contain harmful chemicals and are too new for researchers to fully understand the long-term health effects.

“I had a conversation with two kids today, who said, ‘We know it’s bad for us, but if adults tell us not to do it, we are going to do it, and we think it’s safer than cigarettes.’ In their heads, it’s safer,” she said.

Vaping liquids, Drehmer explained, have a higher concentration of nicotine than individual cigarettes, making them highly addictive.

“There are some juices that don’t have nicotine in them, but 99.9 percent of the kids that we are getting have the juice that has nicotine in it, so they are getting addicted. It’s just like cigarette smoke. It took years of studies before they found out how dangerous it is,” she said.

The liquid also contains varying amounts of toxic chemicals — including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and metals, such as nickel, chromium and manganese, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease — and contain additives such as propylene glycol and glycerol that can form carcinogenic compounds when heated.

“We know there are going to be consequences, because there are chemicals that are being heated and turned into a vapor and breathed into lungs. Eventually, the studies are going to come out and say how dangerous they are. We just don’t know yet,” Drehmer said.

Many district parents, and even some students, came to the presentation.

Pamela Santangelo, who has children at the middle and high school levels, said she attended because she has really been pushing high school administrators to provide some education for parents and students on the alarming trend.

“I feel like a lot of the parents are just blinded. They don’t know what to look for, they don’t know the smells, or what the devices look like,” she said.

While Drehmer said she believes approximately 50 percent of students at the high school level currently vape, Santangelo said the students she’s talked to are saying more like 80 percent of their peers are using.

 “I feel like it’s an epidemic at the high school. I truly do,” she said.

Mike Ciaramellano, who also has children at the middle and high school levels, said it’s really important for parents to be aware of the harmful effects of vaping and what is happening within the schools.

“Most of the things I’ve learned tonight I’ve already researched myself, but this was a great way to have conversations and engage, and try to find other ways to make an impact and slow this down,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to parent.”

Ciaramellano said the presentation was “a good first step” in education for parents who are unfamiliar with vaping.

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