Soon after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced at least three cases in Virginia of lung illnesses linked to the use of electronic cigarettes, Loudoun County wants to make sure parents and students have heard the news.
In an email to Loudoun County Public Schools parents, the state’s health commissioner informed health care professionals about “clusters of pulmonary illnesses linked to e-cigarette use … among adolescents and young adults.”
Loudoun schools are taking steps to inform students and parents about vaping, and e-cigarette usage, in hopes that awareness of the risks will decrease student experimentation and usage.
Symptoms of vaping-associated respiratory illness include gradual onset of cough, shortness of breath or fatigue, which could worsen over a period of days or weeks before admission to the hospital. Some patients reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Jennifer Wall, a licensed professional counselor, is supervisor of the school system’s Student Assistance Specialists, who have expertise in the fields of substance use and mental health.
She tells WTOP the county is providing information about the risks of vaping to sixth graders.
“We were starting to see some seventh and eight graders who were experimenting with vapes,” said Wall. “We’re really trying to target it much young to prevent them from ever using the substances, because we do see it as a gateway.”
Wall said vaping and e-cigarette use, based on vapor and aerosols, is easier to hide than cigarette use, which involves burning tobacco.
“The number one thing that kids like about it is it’s easy to conceal, and it’s a trending behavior,” said Wall.
Studies by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that the likelihood of teen e-cigarette use starts in middle school and increases through high school. In 8th grade, 9.5% of students nationwide used e-cigarettes. By 12th grade, that percentage jumped to 16.2%.
According to the NIDA data, boys are twice as likely as girls to use e-cigarettes.
Wall is hopeful the CDC’s announcement about illnesses linked to vaping will help solidify that the practice is dangerous.
“I think the more we can educate that, I think we’ll see the numbers decrease because as soon as people realized that cigarettes were harmful, we started to see those numbers dropping,” said Wall.
She encouraged parents to speak with their children about vaping.
“Even if you don’t say the right thing, as a parent, you’re putting yourself out there to their sounding board, and I think kids really need that,” Wall said. “Even if you have the answers, you’ll figure it out together.”