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Survey of students at four high school finds almost 21 percent report vaping

A survey of high school students in Princeton found that nearly 21 percent of them said they vape and that most do so with nicotine, a substitute for regular smoking that one expert said on April 30 is a “gateway” to using tobacco products.

The Corner House Student Board, a group of students from the four public and private high schools in Princeton, recently surveyed their peers at Princeton High School, Stuart Country Day School, the Hun School and Princeton Day School.

Their research found that of 526 respondents, 108, or 20.5 percent, vape, Princeton High School senior and board member Madison Richmond showed during a two-hour community forum about vaping that was held in the Witherspoon Hall municipal building.

Richmond reported the survey showed 393 students, 74.7 percent, reported they do not vape, while 25 students, 4.8 percent, said they had stopped vaping. Nicotine came in as the top substance students vape, at 77.2 percent.

In terms of the rate of vaping, she said, “what we found was people either do it very infrequently or very frequently. So there’s not much in between.”

Nearly 56 percent of students who vape said their parents did not know they vape, compared to 28.5 percent of students who vape who said their parents are aware.

Later in the program, Linda Richter, director of policy research and analysis with the Center on Addiction, walked through a presentation on vaping, from its history to how electronic cigarettes or vaping products are marketed.

Richter said vaping is a commonly used term for inhaling and exhaling aerosol, “a cloud of solid and liquid particles that is produced when you use an e-cigarette or any kind of vaping device.”

The devices work by heating a liquid, or an e-juice, that has flavoring and other chemicals and almost always nicotine, she said, adding that the liquid becomes an aerosol that has chemical properties and particles that get into the user’s lungs.

“Many of them are toxic and dangerous,” she said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said, “found that 99 percent of vaping products had nicotine.” Touching on the addictive quality, she said nicotine impacts the brain and “makes quitting very, very hard.”

Vaping devices originally looked like cigarettes, but they have evolved to resemble pens, sticks of gum or other objects, she said.

“And the peak vulnerability to addiction is during adolescence,” Richter said. “So it’s really no coincidence these products taste like candy and are marketed as fun and cool.”

She said that for the tobacco industry, vaping products are profitable. While members of the public, including youths, do not smoke as much as people did in the past, e-cigarette sales are poised to overtake cigarette sales in the next two years, she said.

“So the tobacco industry has recognized the importance of this market for their continued survival,” Richter said. “They recognize and they know that by planting the seeds of nicotine addiction as early as possible, they are going to have a tremendous incentive to bring the vaping market to kids.”

In 2016, a national survey found that more than two million middle school and high school students had reported vaping in the past 30 days, she said, adding that studies have shown a link between using e-cigarettes and using conventional tobacco cigarettes.

On one hand, the addictive quality of nicotine leads users of vape products to eventually “want something else,” she said. Also, vaping de-mystifies smoking and “makes it seem less harmful.”

“It is a gateway to smoking,” Richter said. “Many, many kids and adults who use vape products end up smoking.”

While Princeton and other municipalities nationally prohibit the sale of vaping products to anyone under 21, Richter said the restrictions are easily bypassed.

“A lot of these products are bought online,” she said.

During a panel discussion that included representatives of the four high schools, Candy Shah, director of wellness at Princeton Day School, said vaping, nicotine use and substance abuse are discussed in her school.

“We start and we talk from fifth grade on,” Shah said, “because we reflect what the national averages are, both from our internal surveys and the national surveys we have participated in.”

She said the school had to amend its policies “to reflect what they are for vaping and substances on campus, during field trips, dances and any school-sponsored event.”

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