Pine lake prep vaping

Pine Lake Prep student Brittany Costello shows parents various vaping products prior to a presentation made by Mecklenburg County Public Health officer Ranayda Drayton.

It looks like a USB drive, and even plugs into a computer to charge. It’s even supposed to aid in the smoking cessation process. But the way e-cigarettes, especially Juuls, are being marketed and consumed are dangerous to young people.

That’s what presentations given at Pine Lake Prep and Mooresville High School in recent weeks highlighted. And the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes – and the discoveries about them – has government and school officials taking action.

In 2018, one-in-five high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the last month, the U.S. Surgeon General website states. The product’s appeal is two-fold: packaging that includes sleek styling and fruity flavors, along with the perception of benign effects.

Luka Kinard vaping MGSD

Luka Kinard, a teen from High Point, speaks about his vaping use as Mooresville High School Principal Eric Schwarzenegger looks on during a program Jan. 24.

But the “pod” that comes with the Juul – the brand that accounts for half of the e-cigarette market – contains as much nicotine as a pack of standard cigarettes.

“You don’t always know what you’re taking into your body,” said Maj. Ron Chilton of the Mooresville Police Department Jan. 24. “It might be packaged as one thing, but in reality, might be another.”

When that product going into teen’s bodies is nicotine, Ranayda Drayton, Youth Tobacco Prevention Coordinator for Mecklenburg County, said it’s time to step in.

“Once someone is addicted to this product, the dependence level is higher than other drug, including caffeine, heroine, marijuana,” Drayton said at Pine Lake Jan. 16. “Nicotine harms brain development, and the brain doesn’t reach full development until age 25. It’s literally rewiring their brain, and their becoming more susceptible to other drugs. It’s still a gateway drug.”

The effects were laid out first-hand by Luka Kinard, a student at High Point Central, who came to Mooresville High with his mother.

Kinard was an A student, active member of the Boys Scouts and played sports. Then he got into vaping, specifically Juuling.

Although 18 is the legal age to buy vaping products in North Carolina, Kinard said they’re still easily accessible, even after being banned from grocery stores and gas stations.

“These vape shops, if you look old enough, they wont ID you,” Kinard said as Chilton nodded in agreement.

Kinard was out of Scouts for six months, and said he’s almost reached the rank of Life, one before Eagle, and wants to get more involved with leadership in his troop. He and other experts mentioned the ease of acquiring e-cigarettes online as well.

A mother who had a middle school-age son thanked Kinard for his story, as the son was in Boy Scouts and was active in sports himself.

Andrew Moceri, executive director of Pine Lake, said students found vaping, whether outside or in bathrooms, often are using the starter kits rather than the high-volume “mods,” which are more common with adults.

“We have a lot of good families, and a lot of good kids, but good kids still make bad decisions,” he said. “It’s a societal problem and I feel like it’s becoming a problem here.”

Besides the health consequences, being suspended for vaping has lingering effects for students. At Pine Lake, administration has gone from giving one day of in-school suspension to out-of-school suspension.

“On college applications, there’s a box that asks if you’ve ever been suspended from school,” he said. “Do you want to have to check that box?”

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