Kern County takes action on teen e-cigarette use

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Vape, Juul, e-hookah, e-cig. They’re brightly colored, they’re pretty cheap–and there are over 7,000 flavors with names like Mango Beach Twerk, Mermaid Tears, Dragon Blood.

E-cigs were created originally to wane smokers off cigarettes, but now they’re designed to hook a younger, more impressionable audience.

“We hear of people within middle school bringing these devices to school and sharing them with their friends. They get them from their older brother, or sister, or family member,” said Brynn Carrigan, the assistant director at Kern Public Health.

Many parents we asked couldn’t even identify some e-cigs, thinking they were pens, lip gloss, or computer devices.

According to the CDC, in 2016, more than 2 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in just one month. Of the 2 million, nearly 90,000 were middle schoolers.

Carrigan says most kids nowadays understand cigarettes are harmful, but it’s the flavors–and a certain misconception–that turn them toward e-cigs instead.

“People are now under the impression that the Juul and e-cigarettes are not as harmful as a standard cigarette,” Carrigan said. “So, often times when you start smoking either an e-cig or a Juul, you are inhaling much more than you would if you just smoked a single regular cigarette. And that addiction will come on faster.”

A Juul cartridge, about the size of your thumb, condenses the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Even e-cigs without nicotine contain other cancer-causing chemicals. Kern Public Health says it’s the FDA’s lack of regulation that perpetuates the misconception that they’re harmless.

According to Carrigan, from 2016 to 2017, 12 percent of Kern County tobacco retailers sold to people under the legal buying age of 21. What’s more alarming–94 percent of kids successfully bought e-cigs on the internet. The starter kits range between $30 and $50, with refill liquids costing less than 20.

“Some students we hear are putting their money together, saving allowance money, and they’re gathering it together just to buy it,” noted Tiffany Winter, a health educator assistant for the Kern County Tobacco Education program.

In schools, administrators have been suspending or expelling kids found with e-cigs–but Winter says they’re now trying to find alternative punishments because there’s such a high suspension rate.

On a larger scale, the only legal repercussion for possessing tobacco underage is confiscation of the product.

“You have to be 21 to purchase it, but not possess it,” explained Chris Peck, an officer with Bakersfield Police Community Relations.

While the law may not deter kids, Kern Public Health and the BPD are using tobacco tax money to educate the community about e-cigarette dangers. Peck also recently started leading a presentation he’ll be taking to high schools for the rest of the year.

To schedule a BPD presentation, you can contact Peck at 326-3388 or cpeck@bakersfieldpd.us.

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