As vaping epidemic continues, Riverside raises awareness

Dr. Ilonia Jaspers speaks with student panel. The panel was composed of Tai Gordon, Ikey Harrison, and Nathan Compton, all seniors.

Vaping remains a problem at Riverside and high schools all around the US, but principal Tonya Williams is fighting back. 

On November 19 Williams met with students, parents and medical professionals to discuss what needs to be done to fight the vaping epidemic. The meeting featured a student panel that talked about vaping from their view as highschoolers. In addition, Dr. Ilonia Jaspers, a professor at the Department of Pediatrics at UNC, and Elise Hickman, a Ph.D. candidate at UNC, gave insights into how medical professionals are dealing with vaping outside of school. Cheryl Parsons, Riverside’s nurse, mediated the event. 

One of the main points of the meeting was to help parents gain more information about vaping and its presence in school.

To begin the conversation, panelists discussed what kind of groups they felt were vaping. Everyone agreed that it was not a particular group per say, but vaping often starts with one person in a friend group and it spreads among the friend group. 

Then the conversation moved to how informed parents and teachers are on vaping. The students all felt most teachers and parents could recognize if a person was vaping by now because of its distinct smell, but not all parents could recognize the actual device. 

How minors acquire vapes was also a topic of discussion and the panel shared how minors acquire vapes. The most common way teenagers get their vapes, they said, was just by asking older people to buy it for them. Some stores will also sell it to minors without checking age. Parents were clearly unhappy with this because the room broke out in mutters.

After the student panel, Dr. Jaspers, shared her vaping research. 

“I’m an inhalation toxicologist by training,” said Jaspers, “so I take a look a look at everything that comes into your lungs whether it’s air pollution, combustion exhaust, or cigarette smoke or now vaping. I have a twelfth grader at home and I have an eleventh grader at home. When the first people started dying and we started having all these cases reported from this vaping associated lung injury, that struck a nerve with me.”

Jaspers talked about data on the number of youth vapers was extremely skewed due to the language difference among teens and adults. 

Jaspers then explained  of an experiment she and her assistant Elise Hickman did with the “e-liquid” found in vape pods that contains the chemical cinnamaldehyde which is what gives cinnamon its flavor and also gives cinnamon flavored vapes their flavor. 

“We took cinnamon flavored e-liquids,” she said. “We literally just put it on the plastic [petri dishes], walked away, and then came back two and a half hours [later]. What do you think may have happened? These are really really aggressive chemicals. They melted the plastic.”

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