NBC15 Investigates: Teen Vaping Trends

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The explosion of popularity of e-cigarettes and other vaping products has led to renewed concern about teens and nicotine.

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control earlier this year, as many as one in every five high school students said they had used an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days.

One popular brand of e-cigarette is called Juul. It’s one of dozens of types of e-cigarette devices used to turn a liquid, typically containing nicotine, into a vapor, to be inhaled.

“Juuling happens in the schools it happens at home it happens everywhere,” Waunakee High School junior, Cody Miller said. “People don’t see it as something bad because, like I said, the majority is doing it.”

The 2018 Dane County Youth Assessment survey found that 19 percent of high school students had used an e-cigarette at least once in the past 30 days. Six percent said they had used one 10 days or more.

“You have your Juul on you all the time. It’s with you in class, it’s with you at home. It follows you everywhere just like your phone does,” Waunakee High School senior Caitlyn Kesilewski, said.

E-cigarette products, including Juuls, don’t typically look like traditional tobacco products. They typically don’t smell like cigarettes and can often times be smoked discretely.

NBC15 Investigates has learned there’s a test parents can get to see if their teen is using an e-cigarette or any other product with nicotine.

Heidi Courtney at Wisconsin Drug Testing says they can complete a urine or saliva test to find out if someone has ingested nicotine in the past three or so days. They can see use even further back if someone is ingesting nicotine often. Courtney said the test also works for cotinine, the chemical that nicotine breaks down into.

“Give a urine sample, a saliva sample, easy as that, have results in a few days,” Courtney said.

She said the test at a drug testing clinic usually cost around $40.

The rising popularity in e-cigarette use is also getting the attention of educators. Waunakee School District created a new social work position in the district within the past two years to help students deal with substance abuse.

“I think it is kind of a problem and there’s not a whole lot of awareness that it’s a problem and there’s not a whole lot of ways for them to learn how to get access to help so that’s part of my job to help them figure out how to quit,” Waunakee School District Prevention Coordinator, Jessica Moehn said.

She provides students with resources to help them quit using e-cigarettes and is helping students, parents and teachers learn about the health risks and stay educated on the latest trends in vaping.

“It’s been a lot of learning as we go and just kind of making sure to include the vaping and the electronic cigarettes in the lessons,” Moehn said.

She said she’s seen the use of e-cigarettes explode over the past few years. In her conversations with students, she said, she thinks many teens don’t realize they’re ingesting the addictive substance nicotine when they’re vaping.

“A lot of the kids who are vaping might not even be the kids that would have ever tried a regular cigarette,” Moehn said.

Dr. Megan Piper, a tobacco researcher with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health said she’s also noticing a trend of misinformed or under informed teens using vaping products.

“We’ve actually gone back 20 years. We have gone from a place where everybody knew smoking was dangerous, to this idea that there’s now a safe new, clean way to get your addictive product of nicotine,” Dr. Piper said.

She said because e-cigarettes are fairly new, there isn’t a lot of research on the long-term health effects of vaping. She said one health risk they do know about, is what nicotine addiction, or any kind of addiction, can do to an adolescent brain.

“When you have nicotine in the system what it does is it actually changes the structure of your brain,” Dr. Piper said. “You talk about adolescents rewiring their brain and rewiring their ability to experience pleasure and enjoy life, that is a real significant health problem.”

Like Waunakee, many school districts across the state are trying to find new ways to address the problem and educate teens about the dangers of e-cigarettes before they become addicted.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has provided schools with models of policies, messaging and other resources to combat vaping. The department has a specific handout with details on messages adults should be giving to teens to steer them away from e-cigarettes. DPI is also providing Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Abuse grants to help support anti-tobacco and e-cigarette programming.

According to the Community Relations Coordinator for the School District of Beloit, Brian Vissers, freshman students do a lesson on e-cigarettes in health class. The district also partners with Youth to Youth for Change, a drug and alcohol prevention community group, to educate 2nd graders through high school students about the risks of drug and alcohol use, including vaping.
In the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, the Director of Communications, Perry Hibner, said e-cigarettes are part of the lesson plans and curriculum.
The students at Waunakee High School tell NBC15 Investigates that peer pressure is one reason why a lot of teens try or start vaping.

“I know that a lot of kids usually try it because their peers are pressuring them or being like hey this isn’t a big deal,” Wuanakee High School sophomore, Madalyne Zaleski said.

She, and other teens we spoke with said videos of people vaping and using e-cigarettes are popular on social media, leading some teens to think it’s safe or cool.

“The blowing smoke is cool and it draws these kids in and before they know it they’re addicted to nicotine.” Wuankaee High School senior, Anaiah Kanes said.

Click here for more information on resources on how to quit smoking or vaping.