By Noor Adatia
BU News Service
BROOKLINE — Smoking e-cigarettes has sparked a national dialogue, especially among families with teens, and Brookline parents and educators came together to better understand how the issue has affected their youth.
Parents of teens and school officials gathered Oct. 3 at Brookline High School to learn more about how they can address the issue with their children and students.
Maria Letasz, director of Guidance and Clinical Services for The Public Schools of Brookline, said vaping isn’t “a Brookline-isolated incident” and has become a national epidemic. “It’s kind of cool looking,” she said, so kids are more likely to try it and “think it’s not that big of a deal.”
“It’s something that’s new and really attractive,” Letasz, who helped organize the event, said.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, more than 2 million middle and high schoolers in 2017 used e-cigarettes and vaping devices.
During the presentation, parents heard about vaping devices and their effects on a child’s body.
“I think folks think — at least health-risk wise — that vaping is not as detrimental as smoking cigarettes, but it is, and sometimes more so depending on what substances are being utilized,” Letasz said.
The presentation was a collaboration between Brookline High School’s Parent-Teacher Organization, which provided some of the funds for the talk, and Caron Health’s Education Alliance. Caron Health operates addiction treatment programs around the country.
Recognizing vaping devices
Traci Wojciechowski, who handles New England for Caron’s division dedicated to students, led the presentation for around 70 parents and school officials. She began by discussing how engineers first developed e-cigarettes as an alternative for those struggling with nicotine addiction.
“They were to meant to help people quit smoking,” Wojciechowski said. “It ended up morphing into something very different.”
Her presentation also included several slides on the anatomy of vaping devices, so that parents would be able to recognize them. After the presentation, about a dozen parents examined the devices Wojciechowski brought with her for a closer look.
“We might have something at home and I don’t even know what it is — it looks like a lighter,” Mercedes Petit, a Brookline parent, said.
Wojciechowski said some e-cigarettes don’t actually use vapor but rather involve inhaling and exhaling aerosol, a chemical found in some hair sprays and other items.
“So many children tell their parents it’s just flavored water,” she said.
Some vaping devices have attachable pod units that contain e-liquids or “e-juices” with flavors ranging from bubble gum to crème brûlée, Wojciechowski said.
“It’s hard for me to believe that this wouldn’t just be a marketing ploy for young people,” she said.
She showed pictures of e-cigarettes that look like highlighter pens and USB flash drives. She said one of the most popular devices used by young people, known as the Juul, contains a 5 percent level of nicotine, which is roughly equivalent to one pack of cigarettes.
Wojciechowski said e-cigarettes can cause gum diseases and sores as well as what she described as “vapor’s cough” as well as addiction to nicotine.
“Because their brain is under construction until around 25, while their brain is developing executive training, it makes them very vulnerable to addiction,” she said.
The American Journal of Medicine looked into the smoking patterns of young adults and in April published a study that found almost half of e-cigarette users had transitioned to smoking traditional cigarettes at the end of the observation period.
School officials will help
School officials also joined the conversation, emphasizing they will do what they can to help students.
Darby Neff-Verre, head counselor for the high school, said there would be no consequences for students who seek help about using e-cigarettes.
“If a student came into a counselor, they would get support,” she said. “There’s not going to be ‘I need to report you to the dean for discipline.’”
Currently, those 18 and up can purchase nicotine products, but a law that goes into effect January 2019 raises the age to 21.
Parents part of the conversation
Joanna Cataldo, a Brookline High School parent of two freshmen, said she came to the presentation because her daughter has attended parties where classmates were Juuling.
“I do talk often with them, and I will continue that even though they can’t stand it,” Cataldo said.
Fatima Hajebi, a parent of a freshman and junior at Brookline High, said that as a physician, she always talks to her kids about smoking and vaping.
Hajebi, 42, said she is horrified by how e-cigarette companies make the devices attractable to kids and with flavors such as bubble gum.
“Parents should look at this new thing open-mindedly, wisely,” she said. “They should try to find a way to go through it in a safe and healthy way.”