Virginia Department of Health Population Health Community Coordinator Dr. Pamela Ray holds up example of electronic nicotine delivery devices. Ray, who is a veterinarian, told participants she was drawn to seek answers on vaping after abnormal numbers of pets sick with poisoning, seizures, lung cancer and asthma began shortly after vaping came on the scene.

David Broyles | The Carroll News

Virginia Department of Health Population Health Community Coordinator Dr. Pamela Ray described a Shakespearean tragedy of its own to youth in her presentation, “To Vape or Not to Vape; That is the question. ” Ray also insisted the lucrative industry’s “long game” is nicotine addiction driving users back to smoking tobacco.

The presentation was held on April 26 at Carroll County High hosted by Carroll County Parent Connect. Following Ray’s talk, a discussion was held with a panel that included school personnel, law enforcement, court personnel and medical staff.

“We have an epidemic. Not just in Carroll County but across the state and across the nation, ”said Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Burnette. “That has to do with vaping… .both nicotine and THC. It’s a problem that is just not going to go away and our best bet is to educate people about it. The harmful effects and the addiction of nicotine. “

Ray, who is a veterinarian, told participants she was drawn to seek answers on vaping after abnormal numbers of pets sick with poisoning, seizures, lung cancer and asthma began shortly after vaping came on the scene. She said she has been working on the problem of vaping, e cigarettes and nicotine since 2013.

Nicotine toxicity associated with the devices has even inspired its on slang among children who call it “the spins” or “nick sick.” Ray said vaping has become easily available and normalized with health officials seeing children starting on JUUL devices as early as fourth or fifth grade.

“One little fifth grader said, ‘So… .you’ve been working on this for nine years.’ He did the math. Then he said, ‘I think you need to work a little harder’ cause it’s only gotten worse and worse. ‘ When you have these perceptions and perspective from a youngster, I think it’s a valuable topic for us to spend time on this tonight, ”said Ray. “We are not going to punish this away. We must walk side by side with our children so they trust us and know that we are not just going to punish them with punitive measures. “

Ray said the reason she was speaking last Tuesday was because of the care and concern of staff in Carroll County Schools. She said they really care about students and want to really do what can be done to take care of the problem, remediate if possible, and most definitely offer services to the youth who have become addicted to the chemicals and substances from the devices. Ray said coming out of the pandemic, vaping has quadrupled among students with 50 percent usage in high schools, more than 30 percent in middle schools and around 20 percent in younger students.

“The one thing we know that works is peer support. Peer pressure works to push you in one direction. Peer support brings you back around and if you know you have the support of the community, youth are more likely to listen to each other than to someone old like me talking about it. Parents, it’s a tough road for you as well. They are more likely to listen to their coach than they might be to you, ”Ray said. “I tell parents to model good behavior and have early conversations.”

She said some vaping devices are disposable and some are refillable, rechargeable and reusable. Ray said ingredients in the mixtures vaped are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“We think about the liquid that is in there. It is designed not to be heated at a high temperature and taken into our lungs… inhaled. It is designed to be ingested. That’s where the approval is. If you go outside the approved use, you shouldn’t use that label anymore, ”said Ray. “Nicotine is FDA approved in that it is monitored and to a certain degree the percent concentration is regulated.”

Ray said the cloud produced from vaping is more than just water vapor because there are other ingredients in the “E-juice” such as flavorings, nicotine and more byproducts produced in the high temperature process. She said vapes and e-cigarettes were originally touted as harm reduction (less harmful) than cigarettes and would be a different product.

“One way to get around the FDA regulating one device (only) was by calling these ‘Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems’. When smoking is prohibited… people use the products. We are not seeing a real harm reduction. This is mostly aimed at adults, ”Ray said. “What we do know is that when youth use these products… use e-cigarettes for their first time, they are not trying to quit. They are just using them and they become addicted. Here’s a scary one… personal vaping devices can be used for many substances. Anything you can pulverize and put into a liquid form and put in a vaping device can be inhaled. This includes drugs, poisons and other substances. “

Ray said a product may be labeled “nicotine free” when it is below the threshold of FDA’s regulations. She said this is a big concern because nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man no matter the method of delivery. Second and third-hand vapor is also a concern because the nicotine comes out in that and is absorbed on the skin or if inhaled. She said materials lining the delivery systems eventually break down and the heavy metals are breathed into the lungs.

“This was officially declared an epidemic in 2019, and was directly related to JUUL. The reason the government got involved was because of young people who said we’ve had enough. You’re coming after us. You’re getting my friends hooked on this. We don’t know what these devices and we are being held to the opportunity of a vaping device no one knows the long term impact of. Why is that of concern? Because now illicit drugs are becoming a part of the picture, ”said Ray.

Ray was referring to products tainted with high potency THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Mixtures laced with fentanyl and meth have also been found. These products have unknown effects on those who use these products a first time.

“Age doesn’t seem to deter anybody. You have to be 21 to own these devices and use the products. Yet we are here in a high school and heard mention of elementary school and middle school students having access and bringing them to school. So it was an epidemic. It was an epidemic back then and it is still an epidemic now, ”said Ray. “We thought coming out of the pandemic we’d see a decrease in numbers which is what we saw going into the pandemic. But now we are seeing those numbers absolutely skyrocket. That is frightening. “

She suggested people, depressed and stressed by the pandemic, reached out to these products to self-medicate. Ray said initially nicotine might make you feel better and focused but it is known to eventually add to anxiety and can lead to long-term brain disturbance.

“One thing to recognize is that youth until the age of 25 do not have a fully developed brain. When you think about that I think about the people I know who at 21 graduated from college… started a job… maybe started a family and their brain is not fully developed and they are asked to make choices when they have been putting in substances…. things that don’t belong in your brain actually effects the addiction zone of the brain and the younger you are exposed to these products – even in utero – the more likely you are to develop addictive personalities and behavior, “Ray said. “We also do know the high dependency rate with these products the more likely you are to go to a combustible product which is what the tobacco companies want to happen. Using these products early on leads to seeking more nicotine concentration later on. “

She said memory issues related to these products are being identified and documented including memory issues like “foggy brain” and the inability to concentrate. Learning rates for users also lags behind their peers who do not vape or smoke. Those vaping or smoking also have poor immune response and are likely to be affected by other desases like COVID.

“I’m never mad at the kids. Why? Because they are being bamboozled like their grandparents were five decades ago by the big tobacco companies. They figured out how to attract young people to take their products. Kids are being innundated. They you go to social media and YouTube and TikTok teach you how to use the devices, ”said Ray. “This is the goal of these companies. They get them through the flavors and keep them through the nicotine and fancy marketing. We need to get pro-active and start talking to the fourth and fifth graders. We need to educate them and then talk to younger folks. If we are talking to high school kids who already have this problem they need to receive treatment … sometimes that’s behavioral health treatment … sometime that’s treatment with medication. “

David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter @ CarrollNewsDave

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