Vaping a growing issue in Lowcountry middle, high schools

Today's youth have replaced traditional cigarettes with electronic cigarettes. E-cigs and vaping devices are becoming a trend among high schoolers and middle schoolers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3-million middle and high schoolers have used an e-cigarette in the last month and one in six high schoolers, based on 2015 data.

On Tuesday, a school resource officer spoke to 7th graders at Laing Middle School about the dangers of vaping.

In both the Charleston and Berkeley County School Districts, e-cigarettes are treated like any other tobacco product, one with different tiers of punishment including suspension. Neither districts could provide data specifically relating to vaping.

Mount Pleasant counselor Margaret Taylor, LPC, said many of her young patients have admitted to vaping or are seeing her because they were caught.

"Yes, it pops up in sessions every week, if not every day, it's just kind of the part of culture with teens, unfortunately," said Taylor. "They drive up to the parking lot at school and all the kids are sitting around vaping in their car, it's everywhere it's around them and for the middle schoolers they all want to be like the high schoolers."

Taylor said kids are vaping for a variety of reasons. Many devices like the JUUL are easy to conceal, easy to carry and easy to hide from parents.

"This looks like a USB thumb drive," said Hannah Riley, a vaping expert at Shem Creek Vapor. "The problem with these is they are very small and portable which is good and bad because they're easy to sneak into school."

Designed for smoking cessation, Riley said devices like the JUUL contain more nicotine than a cigarette. She said kids are most likely getting an adult to buy them and said majority of online retailers require a copy of a government-issued ID.

"They're making vaping look bad for all of us who have been vaping from the beginning since it started to quit smoking," said Riley. "Once they get addicted to something like the JUUL and addicted to the nicotine that's in it, once their JUUL gets confiscated or they lose it or something happens, I believe they would go to cigarettes or traditional tobacco to get their nicotine fix."

Taylor worries about the long-term effects on the adolescent brain. She said exposure to nicotine can prime young minds for addiction.

"Their brains are very vulnerable and they're still developing and there are chemicals in there that also affect their immune system," Taylor said. "It's kind of the no-big-deal attitude that a lot of even parents and teachers have. They see it as kind of a lesser of all the evils, instead of a gateway to more addiction."

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