Health experts: Vaping could be gateway drug for teens

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MIAMI VALLEY, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) –As more teens turn to vaping instead of smoking cigarettes, health experts warn it’s what the two tobacco products have in common that could make them both gateways to other addictive drugs.

Riverside Local Schools is determined to keep students from vaping in the first place.

“The vaping epidemic has kind of changed the way schools have to view tobacco on their campuses,” said Kelly Kauffman, Riverside Middle and High School principal.

The district installed Halo Smart Sensors in the bathrooms and locker rooms. The devices are installed in the ceilings and alerts administrators when vape smoke is detected.

They’re needed because the vapor they produce doesn’t set off standard smoke detectors.

“An initiative on our part to help combat, help deter, make students think twice, and let them know we’re not going to turn a blind eye,” Kaufmann said.

Although they know what they’re looking for, products like Juuls, that look like USBs, make vaping easy to hide.

“We have confiscated a lot of Juuls and other vape products, but actually being able to catch the student in the act, never,” Kauffman said.

Still, Kauffman knows the problem is there.

Health experts say 41-percent of Ohio high school students have tried electronic cigarettes and 22-percent use them.

As the debate on just how safe vaping is continues, many are concerned about the path it could send teens down.

“When a student or adult decides to partake in kind of risky behavior, I think there’s always a possibility of that leading to more dangerous activities,” said Kauffman.

Doctor Marc Sweeney, Dean of the School of Pharmacy at Cedarville University, said it’s a topic that’s being researched right now.

According to A Report of the Surgeon General, a study looking into the link between e-cigarettes, alcohol, and other drug use in 18 to 24-year-olds shows: the odds of alcohol use were nine times as high and the odds of smoking marijuana every day or some-days were three-and-a-half times as high for those who used e-cigarettes in the past-30-days than for those who hadn’t vaped in that same timeframe.

“This is a challenge because there are studies that are looking at this,” said Dr. Sweeney. “They’re not maybe all conclusive, but as we do more studies we definitely would be concerned that nicotine could, in fact, be lending to other problems.”

Dr. Sweeney added what’s being vaped matters.

“Depending on what’s in the device it could potentially lead to other problems,” Dr. Sweeney said.

One of those substances found in vapes is nicotine.

A recent CDC study found that 99-percent of e-cigarettes sold in assessed venues in the U.S. contained nicotine.

“We have known for a long time that nicotine is an addictive substance, and if we’re vaping with nicotine, certainly nicotine could trigger potential addiction to other substances,” said Dr. Sweeney.

But another factor comes into play.

“There’s our genetic predisposition and then there’s the actual substance itself,” said Dr. Sweeney. “You can utilize a nicotine product and it not be a problem for other substances.”

This is information Cedarville University pharmacy students in the Generation R-X program are sharing with teens.

“We talk about education all the time,” said Jessica Hall. “We’re learning new information and as future pharmacists, I think one of the best ways to make an impact is by educating patients and students.”

A mission they’re teaming up with local schools, like Cedar Cliff High School, and Greene County Public Health to make happen.

“The more people they have in their lives making them aware of the decisions that they make, I think that’s a good thing,” said Ryan Godlove, Cedar Cliff High School health teacher.

A lesson they say needs to continue at home.

“It’s really important for parents to be aware of what their kids are doing but also stay educated and up to date with what’s healthy and what’s not healthy,” said Daniel Parsfchauer.

Kauffman said no matter the price tag or the time it takes, it’s an investment in the future.

“When you’re talking about student safety and student health, the cost is well worth it,” said Kauffman.

Vaping is often seen as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Traditional cigarettes have cancer-causing chemicals like arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde, but vaping products still contain nicotine which can cause an increase in blood pressure or lead to a heart attack.

It’s also not clear if the chemicals and the dangers from them are in water vapor like they are in second-hand smoke.

“Parents need to understand we can’t look at vaping as a safer alternative to smoking,” said Dr. Sweeney. “In fact, maybe later down the road, we’ll find that it’s a more dangerous option.”