Rutland High School students got some real talk about the dangers of vaping last week.
Sarah Cosgrove, a respiratory therapist at Rutland Regional Medical Center, delivered a presentation to sophomores outlining the health risks of using electronic vapor products, or EVPs. RHS freshmen attended the same presentation the week before; juniors and seniors were scheduled to attend this week.
The presentation, which has toured Rutland County since January 2019, is funded by the Vermont Department of Health and RRMC. So far, Cosgrove has given face-to-face presentations to around 2,500 students in grades five through 12.
“We have never had a substance that has affected as many youth in history,” Cosgrove told the students.
According to the results of the 2019 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 50% of the 18,613 high school students who completed the survey said they had used an EVP at least once. Twenty-six percent said they had used an EVP in the past 30 days, more than twice those who said they used in 2017.
By comparison, the survey showed only one in five students have ever tried cigarettes — a 2% decrease from 2017.
According to Cosgrove, there was a 78% increase in EVP use among high school students between 2017 and 2018.
Cosgrove said, when she first started seeing electronic cigarettes hit the market a decade ago, she didn’t anticipate the health consequences they would create.
“We didn’t know what was going on, but we know there was more than a million and a half kids that started vaping within a one-year span.”
She attributed much of that boom to deceptive marketing practices that actively targeted children and presented EVPs as safe, candy-flavored alternatives to cigarettes. She said EVP advertising reaches four in five middle and high school students.
Cosgrove said the misinformation is so pervasive even adults fall for it — 63% of people still think EVPs do not contain nicotine.
Cosgrove said one Juul pod, a popular brand of EVP, is equivalent to roughly two packs of cigarettes. Other brands can contain as much nicotine as four packs of cigarettes in a single pod.
To drive the point home, she relayed a story of a group of parents who allowed their children to vape because they were misled into believing it was harmless.
She said she has learned about children as young as third grade vaping.
“When we started doing these presentations, there was no regulation or laws,” Cosgrove said.
But that’s beginning to change. Last year, Vermont passed legislation to address teen vaping, including raising the purchase age to 21, banning online sales, and levying a 92% tax.
A new bill in the Vermont Senate proposes a ban on all flavored tobacco and EVPs.
Cosgrove explained the addictive nature of nicotine and its effect on the still developing brains of young people. She said young people can get addicted to nicotine faster and experience more intense withdrawal symptoms.
She described her experience working to help teens quit vaping, and how difficult it can be, and offered several resources to help quit, including herself, RRMC, 802 Quits, school nurses and smartphone apps.
“Of the kids that are using, I have a very small percentage that are actually quitting, because the withdrawal symptoms are so intense for them,” she said.
Cosgrove discussed additional risks of using EVPs, including the spread of germs and diseases like mouth herpes, the dangers of black-market cartridges containing unknown substances, exploding devices, respiratory illnesses and even death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 1,600 vaping-related illnesses, including 34 deaths, in the U.S. in 2019. The vast majority of the patients were using products containing THC, the active chemical in marijuana.
Vermont has seen three cases of vaping-related illness to date.
Following the presentation, Cosgrove said she thinks efforts to educate teens about vaping are beginning to work.
“I’m seeing that we’re getting consistent messaging out,” she said. “When you’re looking at the national data ... we’re starting to see the numbers go down again.”
But Cosgrove admitted it’s always a struggle to get teenagers to pay attention, especially when some have already started vaping.
She said students in lower grade levels are more receptive. “They’re spouting the facts and everything, which is great.”
Several students interviewed following the presentation said vaping is part of their everyday lives, stating they know people who do it, and see EVPs used in school.