Pictured Above: Kelly Miloski and John Martin discuss vaping with members of the Riverhead Coalition.

The news surrounding the use of e-cigarettes is changing quickly, and with it comes much confusion amongst parents over how to react to their kids’ use of vaping devices.

As of The Beacon’s December edition’s press time, 42 people in the United States had been confirmed to have died and more than 2,000 had suffered lung injuries due to heavy vaping, and, while these illnesses may not be as widespread as the cancer deaths attributed to smoking regular cigarettes, there is still much that researchers and industry don’t know about the long-term effects of vaping.

But what public health professionals do know is the vaping industry has taken a page from big tobacco’s playbook in marketing their products to young people, said Suffolk County Department of Health educator John Martin, who gave a presentation on the subject to the Riverhead Community Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Youth at its Nov. 14 meeting.

Mr. Martin said research on smoking shows that, if young people don’t start smoking by the age of 21, there’s an 80 percent chance they will never start smoking. And by the age of 23, if they haven’t started smoking, 95 percent of people will never start.

A vaping device with the liquid used in the device

This is why vaping products, like cigarettes before them, are marketed to youth, said Mr. Martin, who spoke on the day after New York State raised the age to legally purchase nicotine products, including cigarettes and vaping devices, from 18 to 21. Suffolk County had raised the legal age to 21 back in 2015.

Kids are still finding ways to get ahold of vaping devices, and the Coalition has data to back that up, said Coalition Coordinator Kelly Miloski, who said, of Riverhead youth surveyed in May of 2018, one in three eighth graders had tried e-cigarettes, and four out of 10 twelfth graders had used a vape in the past 30 days.

“Riverhead was double the national average for all grades surveyed,” she said. The number one place they got a vaping device was from a friend. Their second source was by giving money to someone to buy it for them, and their third most likely source was buying it in a store themselves.

Despite these sobering statistics, members of the Coalition’s burgeoning Youth Coalition visited the Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee en masse on June 11 asking the county to ban flavored vaping products and ban the advertisement of those products within 1,000 feet of a school. 

There are more than 15,000 vaping flavors in the world, many of which have flavors that kids would like, ranging from cotton candy to crème brûlée to crackerjack.

Juul Labs, which controls about 70 percent of the U.S. vaping market, has announced this fall that it will stop producing a number of flavored “vape pods,” in anticipation that the FDA may ban flavored vaping products, and has halted much of its advertising in the United States.

While vaporizing nicotine extract does not produce the tar compounds that cause cancer among cigarette users, the vapor still has an effect on users’ lungs, said Mr. Martin.

The liquid used to carry the nicotine, propylene glycol, creates formaldehyde gas when vaporized, particularly at higher temperatures, and the electronic components used to heat the liquid include lead solder, copper and “cheap alloys” including cadmium and nickel, all of which can be inhaled with the vapor, said Mr. Martin. 

“Nicotine does not cause cancer, but it speeds up your heart rate, it is highly addictive and it changes your brain,” he said, adding that there is the same amount of nicotine in one pod as in 20 cigarettes. There are about 1,600 to 2,000 calls to poison control per year for vaping overdoses, he added, half of which are because someone under the age of 5 got ahold of a vape pod.

A likely black-market device found by Mr. Martin on a recent run through his neighborhood.

Vaping devices can also be used to vape numerous forms of THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.

In 14 states, these cartridges can be purchased legally, but Mr. Martin said people often take apart THC cartridges, cut them with fillers from castor oil to vitamin E oil to honey, and sell them on the black market. Many, though not all, of the vaping related deaths involved these black market products.

Mr. Martin said even found one such cartridge lying on the ground on a morning run through his neighborhood.

“Unless you’re walking into a shop in a state where you can buy it legally, these are black market products,” he said.

The Suffolk County Department of Health’s Office of Health Education sends educators such as Mr. Martin to discuss these issues with both youth and adult groups, and also offers a four-session youth vaping cessation class. More details can be found by calling 631.853.3162.

— Beth Young

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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