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Oct 7, 2019 5:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Forums Explore The Dirty Secrets Of Nicotine

Zoe Rae Leach, an East Hampton High School senior, who spoke at the vaping forum about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.   ELIZABETH VESPE
Oct 8, 2019 12:46 PM

The community rallied at the high schools in East Hampton and Southampton to raise awareness about vaping and the dangers of nicotine addiction. Vaping forums attracted large turnouts on Wednesday, October 2, and Thursday, October 3, at each respective school. Among those in attendance were students, parents, administrators, town board members and police officers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, East Hampton High School Principal Adam Fine said at that school’s forum, 4.9 million high school and middle school students nationally admitted to vaping regularly.

“It’s obvious to us here at East Hampton High School that the use of e-cigarettes among our students is even higher,” he said, stating that the focus of the forum was to bring awareness to the physical, psychological and financial costs of vaping.

“While Juul and other vaping companies are making billions of dollars, taxpayers across the nation are paying millions of dollars to address this epidemic and protect the students,” Mr. Fine said, before introducing a group of seven seniors who call themselves “anti-vapers.”

“Vaping does not have any boundaries. It’s reaching every corner of our school,” said Zoe Rae Leach, one senior, adding that even top 10-percentile students and all-county athletes are vaping. “It’s not just the stereotypical bad kids that are doing it,” she said. “It’s spreading like wildfire.

“I’m captain of the volleyball team,” she continued. “Not an away game goes by where you don’t hear the crackle of a Juul on the bus ride home.”

“Non-vapers are becoming the minority, and this needs to change,” Lucia Ibrahim said. “We are seven students at the forefront of change and we will continue to raise awareness of the rising Juul usage.”

Samantha Prince, a senior, said there is a need to change the social perception of Juul, explaining that smoking was similarly seen as “cool” by previous generations.

“You don’t see people our age smoking cigarettes because people found out about the health risks,” she said, adding that vaping needs to have the same stigma.

“We have to raise awareness and increase knowledge about how dangerous it really is,” Samantha added.

Victor J. DeNoble, Ph.D., one of the key speakers, was recruited by Philip Morris Tobacco from 1980 to 1984 while doing a post-doctoral fellowship. His task was to establish a behavioral pharmacology laboratory to study the behavioral and physiological effects of nicotine.

“Nicotine changed the structure of that little organ,” Dr. DeNoble said while pointing to a photo of a rat’s brain.

“We were trying to figure out if rats could become addicted to nicotine. Could we find a different drug? A drug that would go to the rat’s brain, keep the rat addicted, but wouldn’t cause heart attacks?” he said of the purpose of his study.

Dr. DeNoble said the rats became addicted to nicotine within days. After 30 days, the rats were stepping on a switch that released nicotine more than 90 times a day; the equivalent of a person smoking a pack of cigarettes each day.

Dr. DeNoble had signed non-disclosure agreements and could not share his findings until 1994, when he got a congressional release and became the first whistleblower to begin tearing down the tobacco industry’s wall of secrecy. He was a key witness in the government’s case against the industry and testified before Congress, the Food and Drug Administration and former Vice President Al Gore’s Tobacco Settlement Committee.

E-cigarettes came onto the market around 2007, serving as an alternative to cigarettes. Variations of the first e-cigarettes included products like e-hookah and other rechargeable versions which were conveniently and discreetly designed and gave people the option of smoking anywhere at any time. Now, vape pens, and, most common among high schoolers, Juuls, have a higher capacity battery that can reach higher temperatures, and have refillable e-liquid cartridges.

Dr. DeNoble explained that vape products such as Juul have more nicotine than cigarettes, addicting high schoolers, and changing their brain chemistry.

Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Ph.D., a professor in the division of adolescent medicine department of pediatrics at Stanford University, explained that 1 Juul pod has the equivalent of 41.3 milligrams of nicotine, more than double the nicotine of a pack of 20 cigarettes, which has 20 milligrams.

At Southampton High School the next day, Kim McClain, a social worker at the school, implored the audience to share their experiences at the forum.

“I am very hopeful tonight. Not only am I hopeful because of what our students are doing and the courage that they’ve shown, but I’m hopeful because of this turnout tonight and the amount of people that are engaged in this conversation. And that gives me hope,” Ms. McClain said.

“I just ask that you please, students and parents, go back. We need your help. Talk about this in the community. Share what you’ve learned from this forum. Share the great work that our SADD students are doing. That gives us hope. That’s going to make a change.”

Ms. McClain said that the youngest student she helped last year who had been caught vaping was a 12-year-old girl in seventh grade.

“She was caught in the middle school with a vape, which she said she had taken from her older brother because she thought it was cool and it tasted good.”

Southampton High School Dean of Students Sara Smith said, that last year, 32 students were suspended for vaping-related incidents, either involving a dab pen, which contains marijuana, or a Juul. Each student had an in-school suspension for five days that included counseling.

Because each student has on average seven classes a day, suspending 32 kids for five days means that approximately 1,120 classes were missed.

“Like the psychological stages of grief, there’s also the psychological stages of being caught with a Juul. And so the first stage is denial, the second stage is, it wasn’t mine, the third stage is, someone gave it to me,” Ms. Smith said. “We have seen them crying about how much they know they might be letting down their parents ... and we have students admitting that they do it to numb some other sort of pain in their lives.

“And across the board with students, the main thing that we see is regret,” she continued. “I wouldn’t say that it’s regret that they got caught — [but] regret that they’re doing it and a desire to stop.”

Staff writer Anisah Abdullah contributed to this story

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