Use of Cigarette-Like Devices Growing Among Teens

Cigarette-like devices that could pass for a pen or marker are becoming more and more popular with teens. These devices are sold in tempting flavors such as apple, bubble gum or chocolate, and sometimes claim to be nicotine-free, which can make them attractive to kids. The risks involved, however, are far less appealing and something every parent and teen should become educated on. We spoke to Deputy Matson of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Community Programs Division/Drug Use is Life Abuse, who shared his expertise on this growing new trend.

Q: What are E-Cigarettes and Vape Pens? 
A: The term electronic cigarette, or “E-Cig,” typically refers to the cigarette-like devices that contain varying amounts of nicotine suspended in a propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin solution. They come in a variety of flavors, ranging anywhere from tobacco to margarita. They can also sometimes be used to smoke liquid THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

“Vape Pen” usually refers to devices that are used to vaporize and inhale marijuana.  Both are battery-powered, electronic devices that are usually recharged using a USB port for a computer or wall adapter. Their appearance can be similar to that of an actual cigarette, to something that looks more like a pen, or even a portable media player. On some of these devices, the dead giveaway is the flat mouthpiece.

Q: What are the health risks involved?
A: When it comes to E-Cigs, the health risks at this time remain somewhat unknown. This is mainly due to the fact that they have only recently become so popular, and no long-term studies have been completed. What we do know is that the Food and Drug Administration conducted a study that found many cartridges used in E-Cigs contained trace levels of carcinogens, while some others that claimed to be nicotine-free actually contained nicotine. We also know that nicotine is highly addictive, making it possible for those using E-Cigs to become addicted. Vape Pens share many of the risks associated with marijuana use, which includes the possibility of addiction.

Q: Why are these so popular with teens? 
A: E-Cigs have become popular with teens for many reasons. First, they don’t carry the negative stigma that regular cigarettes do. To put it simply, teens see these as a healthier alternative. E-Cigs also come in many appealing flavors such as apple, gingerbread, banana split, waffle and chocolate, just to name a few. They are stealthy and convenient as well, due to the fact that they are so small and emit no scent. This is what allows many teens to use these devices in their rooms at home, or even during classes at school with little fear of being caught; not to mention that many look benign to the untrained eye.

Q: How is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department working with the schools to help with this problem?
A: The Sheriff’s Department has deputies assigned to campuses across the county. They are called School Resource Officers (SROs), and it is their job to ensure the safety of the students at the campuses to which they are assigned. One powerful tool that they have is the “text-a-tip” program, in which students can send anonymous texts that go straight to the school principal and assigned SRO. This is a great tool when it comes to combating alcohol, tobacco or drug use on campus, as well as other dangerous behavior. The information that leads to the confiscation of many of the E-Cigs and Vape Pens on campuses is obtained from the “text-a-tip” program.

Q: Are there any laws against the use of these devices by minors? What are the general consequences if kids are caught with these cigarettes?
A: Currently, there are laws in place that prohibit the furnishing of E-Cigs to minors. It is also possible that minors found to be in possession of these devices can be cited under a penal code that deals with minors possessing tobacco paraphernalia. On top of that, some school districts already have policies in place banning the use of these devices on campuses, while other districts are in the process of working with the Orange County Department of Education to create new policies on their use. When students are found using these products with marijuana, they can be charged with drug possession.

Q: What tips can you offer parents to educate their kids about the harms of these devices?
A: Get educated. One of the best ways to stay on top of these trends is to do the research yourself. I frequently visit websites that sell these items to make sure I stay informed of all of the new trends and products.

For those interested in learning more, the Sheriff’s Department is offering a presentation about emerging drug trends Aug. 29 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The presentations will be held at several locations throughout Orange County: Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, North Tustin, San Juan Capistrano and Yorba Linda. Among the topics discussed will be E-Cigs and Vape Pens. The presentation is free and everyone is welcome. Please click here for locations and more information on the event:

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