The concern over vaping becoming an epidemic caused Osakis Public Schools administration and staff to hold public meetings last month.
However, the issue may not worry as many parents and community members just yet as only a handful of people showed up for the two meetings.
One parent who attended the meeting on Oct. 23, however, is outraged and strongly believes the state needs to get involved – not only for putting stricter age restrictions in place, but for putting more requirements and guidelines into what goes into vaping products.
Angie Walter, an Osakis parent, questioned why there isn’t policies in place for what ingredients can be used for vaping products. She learned during the presentation that propylene glycol, acetone, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, rubidium and of course, nicotine, are allowed. These products are used in such items as antifreeze, nail polish remover, paints, pesticides, embalming fluid, fireworks and cigarettes.
“Why is this going on?” she asked. “Why isn’t the state doing something about this?”
Osakis Superintendent Randy Bergquist said work is being done, but more still needs to be done. He shared a tobacco timeline showing that e-cigarettes were first introduced in the U.S. in 2006 and in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration started banning flavored cigarettes. Just a year later, in 2010, the FDA started regulating e-cigarettes and vaping devices. Just last year, in 2018, the FDA targeted Pax Labs over its extreme popularity with adolescents. Pax Labs markets vaporizers and developed Juul, a popular brand of vaping devices.
The amount of nicotine in one Juul cartridge is roughly equal, he said, to the amount of nicotine in one pack of regular cigarettes. It comes in eight flavors and always contains nicotine. Juul, according to Bergquist, delivers nicotine 2.7 times faster than other e-cigarette products.
Bergquist also showed an illustration depicting all the different types of electronic cigarettes, including e-pipe, e-cigar, large and medium sized tank-style devices, rechargeable e-cigarettes and disposable e-cigarettes. They come in the form of pens and pipes and some look like real cigarettes or cigars.
Some vaping devices even come in the shape of a sweatshirt. Bergquist had a vaping sweatshirt on-hand to show what it looks like. It looks like a regular hooded sweatshirt, only the string around the hood is the vaping device.
Students, he said, could have these on in school and teachers or other staff members might not even realize they are actually vaping.
“Teachers would probably think the student was just chewing on one of the strings,” he said. “I’m concerned about this, for my own kids and our students.”
The liquid put into a vaping device is called e-juice, which currently comes in more than 15,000 different flavors, Bergquist said. Flavors such as maple pancakes, vanilla cupcakes and popcorn. He also talked about the packaging of the e-juice which resemble products loved by kids such as aerosol whipped topping, juice boxes, ice cream, energy drinks, candy and more.
“You can’t tell me they’re not marketing to kids,” Bergquist said. “They (manufacturers) also use marketing tactics using social media, TV, movies and video games.”
How many are using?
Osakis staff members, Karen Olson, social worker, and Laura Radtke, psychologist, were also at the presentation.
Olson shared some results from the Minnesota Student Survey that dealt with vaping and tobacco use. The survey is given to students in grades 5, 8, 9 and 11 every three years. When the survey was presented in 2016, there was only one question about tobacco products. It was just for students in grades 8, 9 and 11, and asked if they had used any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and hookah, during the past 30 days. At that time, 2% of eight-graders in Osakis said they had, while 4% of ninth-graders and 22% of those in 11th grade said they had.
For the 2019 survey, many more questions regarding tobacco were asked, but the same question as in the 2016 was asked. This time, 16% of Osakis eighth-graders said they had used, while 11% of ninth-graders had and 17% of those in 11th grade said they had used tobacco products.
Those who were in eighth-grade in 2016 are now the 11th grade students this year. That means, Olson said, there was an increase of 15% in three years for the same group of students.
Because the survey is not scientific and students may not be answering truthfully, Olson said she believes it could be a lot higher.
One of the questions on this year’s survey asked specifically about vaping and asked students in grades 8, 9 and 11, how many had vaped in the last 30 days. She said 13% of eighth-graders reported vaping, while students in grade 9 were at 11% and students in grade 11 were at 17%.
Daily vaping usage indicated that 3% of eighth-graders and 7% of 11th graders are vaping every day.
Why be concerned?
Radtke said parents and the public need to be concerned. She said people know that nicotine is addictive. However, she stressed how it affects brain development and that development of the brain continues until people are in their mid-20s. Radtke also mentioned that adolescent brains are uniquely vulnerable to addiction.
While at a meeting with other administrators, Bergquist said he heard that a doctor said he would rather have someone come in at age 60 and be put on oxygen from a smoking-related illness than be dead at 30 from complications of vaping.
All three – Bergquist, Olson and Radtke – are concerned about what the long-term effects of vaping are. They talked about the stories of people who have already died from complications of vaping.
Walter said students need to know what can happen, they need to be educated.
“This is very sad for our kids,” she said. “Right now they think it’s cool, but they don’t realize what it can do to them.”
All three school staff members agreed.
Bergquist said the next steps are to educate and make students more aware of the consequences, work on a curriculum development plan, collaborate more with the community, have consistent communication and update policies.