Local medical expert warns Pelham parents about dangers of teenage vaping epidemic

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The number one reason teens are so attracted to vaping is the large number of flavoring chemicals, a medical expert told parents Monday during a presentation on the vaping epidemic in the Pelham Middle School library.

There are over 7,000 flavors available, according to Dr. Richard Stumacher, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital. Stumacher talked about the dangers of vaping and how to prevent teenagers from taking up the habit.

 A typical vape device consists of propylene glycol and glycerine, which, Stumacher said, are both carcinogenic when inhaled from a vape. Other components in a vape’s output are flavoring chemicals, water and nicotine. The flavorings consist of chemicals which irritate the tissues of the respiratory system, and nicotine is a highly addictive drug that keeps users hooked to vaping. The liquids are heated within the vape and then turned into an aerosol to be inhaled by the user.

“Kids who start smoking younger than the age of 15 are 80 percent more likely to get hooked,” Stumacher said.

Vaping has emerged as a significant problem for Westchester schools, as well as schools nationwide. Last school year, more than 30 percent of Westchester high school seniors reported having vaped in the last month, said Stumacher. Additionally, 12 percent of 8th grade students and 22 percent of 10th grade students reported vaping in the previous month.

E-cigarette use increased 78 percent from 2017 to 2018 among high school students and 48 percent among middle school students, he said.

Christian Amato, deputy chief of staff for State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, attended the seminar and said that he and Biaggi are seeking ways to reduce vape packaging and advertising aimed at youth.

Biaggi is working on “passing legislation to reform the rules about vape and e-cig juice labels to make them less appealing towards kids,” Amato said. Biaggi also aims to reduce the amount of e-cigarette advertisement aimed at teenagers.

Stumacher said that many oral diseases can be caused by vaping, including gum disease, tooth loss and decay and cavities. He said that even though literature indicates that vaping mimics many of the same symptoms as smoking, it is most common for young vapers to pick up smoking later on, thereby worsening their chance of oral and respiratory problems.

The human lungs are not designed to inhale “anything else but air,” he said.

According to Pelham Memorial High School student assistance counselor Kelley-Anne Lonergan, the district’s disciplinary policy for students found vaping during school or at a school activity includes three days of out-of-school suspension and three mandatory sessions of prevention counseling with Lonergan.

One of the main issues is identifying if a teen has possession of a vape device, since they are often disguised as everyday items. Stumacher showed the crowd samples of disguises for vapes, including highlighters, coffee cups, lipsticks, inhalers and USB drives. The e-juice is often packaged in what looks like a sweetener bottle, and the USB-drive lookalikes may be charged in laptops, adding to the element of disguise.

According to Stumacher, black market versions of Juul pods are being sold at gas stations. This raises many concerns, one of them being the pods could be laced with a more intense and dangerous drug.

Stumacher said he started giving talks about the dangers of vaping because of his ex-smoker patients.

“It broke my heart to give a diagnosis to my patients who are burdened with lung cancer,” he said. Stumacher predicts that at some point, hospitals will be hit with a “tsunami of vaping induced diseases.”