Fifteen year-old Luka Kinard began vaping, or smoking e-cigarettes, as a way to handle the anxiety of trying to fit in at his High Point high school. Within six months, he lost interest in school, his friends, his sports teams and his Boy Scouts troop.
One of the biggest attractions to vaping for Kinard was using it as a “stress reliever and a coping mechanism,” he said. “And I can see how it’s definitely not the healthiest of ones.”
Kinard speaks from experience. He had a seizure he and his family believe resulted from his nicotine addiction. Kinard spent 40 days at a California rehab center to kick his addiction to e-cigarettes, he told a crowd of parents and students gathered Thursday at the Mooresville High School Performing Arts Center.
Mooresville Graded School District officials said they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people caught vaping at school and invited Kinard and his mother, Kelly Kinard, plus local medical and law enforcement officials, to speak as part of an informational panel on the dangers of vaping.
Mooresville Graded School District Superintendent Stephen Mauney on Thursday called vaping “a growing epidemic that is dramatically affecting our youth.”
At Mooresville High School, the number of e-cigarette referrals – instances when a student has been caught vaping – has increased from one referral during the 2015-16 school year, to nine the following year, to 59 during the 2017-18 school year, said MHS Principal Eric Schwarzenegger.
The 2018-19 school year is only half over and already the number of vaping referrals has hit 68, Schwarzenegger said. Referrals for chewing tobacco and cigarette use, however, have plummeted to zero this year, Schwarzenegger said.
“I believe this data point is not unique to the MGSD or MHS but is in line with what school districts across our state and our across our nation are experiencing,” Mauney said.
While the high school smoking rate has dropped more than 70 percent since 1999, e-cigarette use has increased nearly 1,000 percent from 2011 to 2015, according to Carleen Crawford, a state regional tobacco control manager.
Crawford attributes the rise in vaping to Juul, a brand of e-cigarettes known as the “iPhone of e-cigarettes” because of its sleek technical design that closely resembles a computer flash drive, she said Thursday.
“Juuling” was Kinard’s preferred method of vaping because of its portability, he said. He had already experimented with chewing tobacco, cigars and cigarettes, but he didn’t like the smell associated with them, he said.
“Nicotine is definitely a gateway drug, you know?” said Kinard. “If you’re smoking, and you say ‘Ok, yeah I’ll try that,’ you’re more likely to say ‘I’ll try drinking, I’ll try smoking weed, I’ll go on to other things as well.’ It seems like such a minimal problem, but it’s not.”
Touted by vaping manufacturers as a way for cigarette users to quit smoking, customers initially thought they were smoking harmless water vapor, an incorrect claim many young people still believe today, Crawford said.
E-cigarettes actually deliver a higher dose of nicotine than the traditional cigarette, experts say.
“Most all e-cigarettes contain nicotine and nicotine is harmful to the youth-developing brain,” said Crawford.
Mooresville Police Department Major Ron Chilton warned the crowd that vaping can have harmful effects because the vaping pods can be filled with substances other than nicotine.
“You don’t always know what you’re ingesting into your body when you vape,” said Chilton. “I think that’s something that young people and parents alike need to think about. You don’t always know what you’re taking into your body. It may be packaged as one thing when in reality, it may be another.”
Such was the case last year when a local student overdosed from a vaping product he or she thought was CBD oil but turned out to be a synthetic cannabinoid, a Schedule I controlled substance, Chilton said. That overdose led to an investigation into a Mooresville vape shop where a clerk was arrested and charged with nine felony drug counts for possessing and selling a schedule one controlled substance, he said.
Chilton recommended parents should check their children’s flash drives to ensure they aren’t vaping devices and to look for changes in your child’s mood or behavior. He also said to be a “nosy parent” and check your child’s room or car.
“It’s your responsibility as parents to watch out for your children and get them on the right path,” he said.
School officials also alerted the crowd to the district’s new disciplinary procedures recently created to reduce the number of students vaping and educate them about the dangers of vaping.
In the past, Schwarzenegger said high school officials handled vaping referrals like smoking or chewing tobacco violations. Those violations started with one or two days of in-school suspension. Under the new policy, first-time vaping offenders will serve out-of-school suspensions plus an after-school suspension upon the student’s return to class as well as complete an educational component, he said.
Administration learned students didn’t consider an in-school suspension as harsh a consequence as an out-of-school suspension, said Schwarzenegger, adding many of the students caught vaping had never been in trouble before.
Kate Stevens/Statesville Record & Landmark