We are seeing two disturbing new trends in student behavior on campus about which both parents and school administrators should be concerned. The first is the increasing popularity of nicotine. The second is an increase in the use of marijuana. They are related in that they share a common delivery device in the electronic cigarette. Students can now smoke either nicotine products or pure THC through vaping devices that are easily acquired, easily hidden, easily used with no odor, and easily disposed of. As a consequence, Loomis, like our peer schools, has seen an uptick in the number of these devices on campus and in the number of students who are addicted to nicotine. We know that our students' behavior mirrors national trends; nonetheless, we need to proactively respond to what is a serious health crisis for our young people.
There are a number of different brands of e-cigarettes, but by far the most ubiquitous are those produced by Juul. Pax Labs, the parent company of the later spinoff Juul Labs, introduced an e-cigarette in 2015; by the end of 2017, they were the most popular provider of e-cigarettes. Originally marketed as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes because they do not contain tar or give off carbon monoxide, e-cigarettes became enormously popular. Soon, companies like Juul began to market directly to children and introduced a range of flavors including mango, vanilla, cherry, and so on. Not surprisingly, the number of children now smoking nicotine products has skyrocketed. The Surgeon General notes that the percentage of teenagers smoking nicotine products increased 900 percent between 2011 and 2015—and has continued to increase rapidly since then. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a detailed breakdown of all the statistics associated with teenage smoking here.) The devices themselves look like either a jump drive for a computer or a pen (see the images at the end of this post).
While it is true that e-cigarettes do not contain tar, they do contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can lead to a number of health problems, including cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. A single Juul pod is equal to 20 cigarettes; therefore, the nicotine hit is much stronger than when someone smokes a regular cigarette. Given the rapid development of the industry, there are also a number of unknowns about the devices themselves and about the other heavy metals that are inhaled along with the nicotine including nickel, tin, and lead as well as butane and the chemicals used in the artificial flavors.
At the same time that we have seen the popularization of e-cigarettes, we have also experienced the legalization of marijuana products in a number of states. Cannabis is now either decriminalized or legal in some 23 states. With legalization has come an explosion of a broad range of cannabis-infused products, including gummies, chocolates, cookies, tea, and high potency THC oil for vaping. (Cannabis contains two active ingredients: tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is the ingredient that makes one high, and Cannabidiol or CBD, which does not lead to a high but does have other medicinal properties.) These products do not have a strong odor, and the THC oil produces no smell when it is vaped or smoked.
Regardless of what you think about the legalization debate, these two developments pose a challenge for parents and schools. Products containing either nicotine or cannabis are much more readily available to our students at a fairly cheap price. Like alcohol, it remains against the law for students under the age of 21 to imbibe or otherwise use these products and, of course, it remains against our school rules. Along with the large number of unknowns, we know that they have potentially harmful health consequences for our students. Our students' brains are still developing, and it is not clear what impact the use of high potency THC has on them. Certainly, we are seeing a number of students who are addicted to nicotine.
Loomis has taken several measures to address the problem. First, of course, is education. We are working with faculty in the dormitories and elsewhere to educate them as to what these devices look like and our concerns about their health impacts. Our Health and Counseling Centers are front and center in this approach. It is also for this reason that I am writing this blog: we need to educate our community as to what these devices look like and what their effects are. Our Peer Health Educators, all of whom are seniors, are doing their own outreach and education to their peers. Those students who are addicted to nicotine can seek sanctuary at the Health Center or Counseling, where our professional medical staff will work with them to help them to combat their addiction. We have increased penalties for vaping or being caught with a vaping device, and we have increased vigilance across campus in looking for such devices. We have held a number of amnesties in dormitories as we encourage students to give up any devices or products.
I would also encourage parents to have conversations with their students about this issue and about seeking help if needed. There is a great deal of information available on the web. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of helpful resources including: "Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults" and "What You Need to Know About Marijuana Use in Teens."