Vaping increase seen at all grade levels

The most recent state Healthy Youth Survey, released in March, indicates that Washington state teens are increasing their use of vaping products. In Tahoma, school administrators report seeing more vaping activity at school – even at the elementary school level.

Vaping is the inhaling of a vapor created by an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) or other vaping device. According to information on the KidsHealth website, e-cigarettes “have cartridges filled with a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and chemicals. The liquid is heated into a vapor, which the person inhales.” The liquid comes in a wide variety of flavors and scents, including fruit, candy, and even bubble gum.

Vaping devices come in many shapes and sizes. Some look very similar to USB flash drives, pens and other common items. Robert Talbert, dean of students at Maple View Middle School, said teachers and administrators have confiscated more than 50 vaping devices from students this year, which amounts to three times the number of devices collected last school year. At Glacier Park Elementary School, five students received discipline recently for using or possessing a vaping device.

Glacier Park Principal Shelly Gaston said the presence of vaping products among elementary students is something new and unexpected.

“They don’t look like a nicotine product, they look like a memory stick,” she said. “They are inconspicuous.”

The 2019 state Legislature passed a law that raises the legal age for using tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. School officials hope the new law will raise awareness and reduce access to vaping products among Tahoma students.

The long-term health risks of vaping are still unknown, because it is relatively new when compared to tobacco use. Regardless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against e-cigarette use among young people, calling it “unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.”

Jennifer Lyons, nursing coordinator for Tahoma, said parents and the school district can work together to help students understand why vaping is harmful and should be avoided.

“Education is key to prevention and developing healthy habits,” Lyons said. “Parents should look for opportunities to start a conversation, not lecture teens. Adolescent brains continue to develop until the age of 25 and nicotine can interfere with memory and attention processing. No parent wants a loss of memory or attention for his or her teen. The addictive nature of vaping messes with the one thing teens crave the most: independence. Drug addiction is like losing your freedom of choice.”

To learn more about e-cigarettes and vaping, here are some helpful online resources: