Students Hear Straight Talk About Vaping

By Gary Weckselblatt

Whether or not they made an impact on the youth vaping epidemic, medical and law enforcement officials held nothing back in detailing the health risks teens face during panel discussions on December 17th at Quakertown Community High School.

Students were told about the toxic substances they could be inhaling into their lungs, shown photos of the physical consequences of doing so and were told in no uncertain terms they were being targeted by companies that manufacture and market electronic-cigarettes and vaping products just as their parents and grandparents were by tobacco companies decades ago.

“We’re not here to tell you what might happen,” said Tom Gannon, a Deputy District Attorney in Bucks County, specializing in narcotics prosecutions. “If you make a bad decision, you will hurt yourself, and it might be irreparable. If people care about you, they will not ask you to do this.”

Mr. Gannon said he meets parents following autopsies to explain what killed their child. “I don’t want to do that for you guys,” he said. “This is a life or death situation for you.”

This was the type of straight talk students heard from the panel about a problem that is destroying the lives of more and more young people, and QCSD is not immune. Three district students have lost consciousness and were taken from school by ambulance after vaping. On November 1, the district filed a lawsuit against JUUL Labs, Inc.

School Resource Officer Bob Lee said every school day there’s a vaping violation in either the bathroom, cafeteria or school bus. It’s why he and high school nurse Margie Regan invited the panel to speak. Besides Officer Lee and Mr. Gannon, the panel included:

  • Dr. Nicole Yoder, a lung and critical care doctor at St. Luke’s Hospital.
  • Mia Giordano, smoking cessation coordinator at St. Luke’s Hospital.
  • Lisa Gaier, Quakertown Magisterial District Justice, and a practicing attorney. She is responsible for all citations related to vaping.
  • Dr. Yoder began taking part in similar presentations last August when the death total from vaping was four. Months later, the number has reached 52, she said, with 2,171 reports of acute lung injury to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Her presentation included photos of teens in hospital beds hooked up to ventilators. One girl, with a breathing tube taped to her mouth, held up a sign: “I want to start a no vaping campaign.”

“Nothing is safe,” Dr. Yoder said. “You can’t say if you buy it over the counter it is safe. Whether you’re a youth or a young adult, you should not use these. Period.” She said the makers of these products are “using you as lab rats.”

Each panel member explained how the makers of e-cigarettes and vaping products are targeting young people. Ms. Giordano spoke about the connection between cigarette manufacturers and JUUL Labs. Altria Group, the owners of Philip Morris USA and makers of Marlboro cigarettes, made a $12.8 billion investment in JUUL a year ago.

She showed the similarities of today’s e-cigarette ads side-by-side with cigarette ads from decades ago. The strategy is obvious, she said as she read documents from cigarette manufacturers:

  • “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer.” - Philip Morris
  • “Young adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers.” - RJ Reynolds

“Their ads are very intentionally trying to get young people to buy their products,” she said. “These products will directly stand in the way of you achieving your life’s goals.”

Judge Gaier said, “If they lied in their cigarette ads, why would they tell you the truth about how they’re destroying your 17-year-old lungs?”

When Mr. Gannon asked students what’s in a JUUL pen, they responded with several different toxic substances. “Maybe,” he said, meaning no one knows the contents. “They want you to focus on the flavor, not what’s in it. They knew in the 50s and 60s cigarettes were toxic to you. That exact same thing is happening right now.”

The judge let students know that if they have been to her court, “you have done something catastrophically wrong.” Having a vaping violation on your record, she said, could cost you a college dorm room or a federal loan. She said fines and court costs for vaping cost anywhere from $142 to $750. And if your family can’t pay, the student is sent to juvenile court.

“The decision you make now is going to have an impact on your future,” she said.

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].

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