EAST ROCKHILL – Everybody knows smoking is bad for you, so most youths today aren't starting with cigarettes, but that doesn't mean they're not putting themselves at similar risk, an addiction specialist told Pennridge School District parents and teachers during a presentation on vaping.

“The rate at which youth are using these vape devices unfortunately are exceeding previous generations of nicotine use,” David Fialko, of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, said at the Oct. 29 “Parent Education Night: Vaping – Is My Child Vaping and How Do I Know?”

“What we're seeing now are young people, because they are being told that vaping is the healthy alternative to smoking, they are not limiting themselves like they would with cigarettes,” Fialko, an internationally certified prevention specialist, nationally certified tobacco treatment specialist, and commissioned U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officer, said at the presentation in the high school auditorium.

Vaping can be done discreetly, making it more difficult to detect if students are doing it, he said.

Flavors help attract them to the vape products, he said.

Although vaping has been promoted as being a way of quitting smoking, it's actually being used as a way to lead people into smoking, he said, noting that cigarette manufacturers have bought into vaping companies.

“Why would big tobacco invest in a cessation aid that helps people quit smoking? Why? Because it's an introductory aid that's gonna guarantee their success in the future,” Fialko said.

People who begin with electronic cigarettes switch to smoke cigarettes because the smoke cigarettes are more effective at delivering nicotine to the body and cost less, he said.

The term “vaping” is part of the marketing, he said.

“Steam does not sound cool. That's not gonna sell to young people,” he said.

It's not uncommon for other drugs, such as marijuana, to be vaped, he said.

It's natural for young people to want to experiment, he said, but said they should be shown more positive choices.

“If you don't give them something healthy to experiment with, they're gonna experiment with something unhealthy,” Fialko said.

It all comes down to what the social norms are, he said, and those should be communicated to young people.

“We need to have very clear expectations with very clear consequences associated if you get caught with this,” Fialko said.

“We really need to get the message out there that this is harmful,” he said. “This is not a healthy alternative to smoking.”

Vaping devices, including some that were confiscated from students, were on display as attendees walked into the auditorium.

“We average about one per week, so we have nine confiscations so far this year, which really doesn't sound like a lot, depending on who you ask, but I gotta be honest, I know we're really just scratching the surface of the amount of kids that are vaping,” Pennridge School Police Officer Joe Gallo said in introductory comments.

Students often share vaping devices, so even if he or she doesn't have a vaping device, they may still be vaping, he said.

In answer to audience questions at the conclusion of the program, Pennridge High School Principal Steve Cashman outlined the school's response to students who are found to have brought vaping devices to school, but said fear of getting caught won't make them stop.

The focus is on getting the student to see that they've made a mistake, but that people care about them and want them to stop, he said.

“Students stop doing something because of the relationship they have with the person who wants them to stop,” he said.

That could be a parent, teacher, student, administrator or others, he said.

Pennridge Superintendent David Bolton said the school board will be considering joining a class action lawsuit against electronic cigarette manufacturers as Quakertown School District recently decided to do.

Video of the Parent Education Night has been posted on the district's YouTube channel. 

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