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Students in Kern County using e-cigarettes in growing numbers

Many parents don't know what an e-cigarette, like these pictured here, looks like. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Vaping – popular trend or epidemic?

Teen use on the rise and kids are becoming addicted to nicotine before they turn 18.

According to the FDA, more than 2 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in 2017.

The American Cancer Society defines e-cigarettes as “a form of electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS). They are small battery-operated devices that sometimes look like conventional cigarettes and have both a heating element and a place for a liquid solution sold for use with e-cigarettes. When the smoker inhales, the system heats the liquid and changes it into very small droplets (vapor) of chemicals and flavorings. Some e-cigarettes are disposable and some are refillable. Many e-cigarettes are used with liquid mixtures that also include the addictive drug nicotine.”

“It is a big issue here in Kern County,” Brynn Carrigan, assistant director at Kern County Public Health. “We’re seeing that our youth are accessing tobacco at a higher rate than the state average. We’re seeing it at every age and in fact, I do believe that we’ve seen it in an elementary school.”

She said that vaping is just as dangerous as old-fashioned cigarette, in part because of how an e-cigarette works.

“These devices are made so that you can inhale large quantities of the product and you don’t even realize that you’re ingesting much more than you would if you were just smoking a regular cigarette,” Carrigan said.

E-cigarettes, or vapes, are made for adult smokers trying to quit cigarettes, like Tommy Juarez. He used to smoke a pack a day. Now he vapes instead.

“I’ve been smoking since I was like 16,” Juarez said. “I like to vape. For one, it helped me a lot, it helped me quit cigarettes. I could breathe a bit more, do better activities.”

The long-term effects of vaping are unknown, according to the American Cancer Society.

Some vape pens have as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

But in the short run, there are concerns that its dangerous for kids. New studies show e-cigs have unsafe levels of chemicals, including lead.

Vape manufacturers say their products are not aimed at children, but Carrigan disagrees.

“It tastes good, it smells good - they’re definitely marketing to our youth,” she said.

Right now, there isn’t a cut and clear answer when it comes to vaping. Adults say they are benefitting from a smoke-free life and health experts say they are toxic to your children

The debate will continue, but there’s one thing is for sure, there is growing concern when it comes to the younger generation using e-cigarettes.

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