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E-cigs: Students pick up latest smoking trend

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E-cigs: Students pick up latest smoking trend

Mike Michalski, Madison Wilder, News Editor, Editor-at-Large

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It’s Saturday night. You’re on your way over to your friend’s house to relax after a long week of school, work and stress. The minute you get to their house you’re welcomed into the home almost as if you’re family. After hanging up your coat you head downstairs just like you would any other night. As soon as you reach the bottom of the staircase you see a plume of what looks like smoke rush out of your friend’s mouth. You’re shocked.

Since when did they start smoking? I don’t see any cigarettes? Why don’t I smell it? Does their mom know? All of these questions rush through your head, but It turns out there are no cigarettes in the room. You’re reassured it’s just an E-cig. You’re told that it can’t hurt your health plus they are legal for minors. The smoke you just saw? It’s just water vapor.

However what your friends tell you might not always be true. Is it really just water vapor? An FDA study begs to differ. And if a bill in the Michigan Legislature becomes law, minors would be banned from buying and using E-cigs.

Growing use: Students pick up trend beginning last summer

Electronic cigarettes or E-cigs are battery powered devices that provide doses of nicotine or just flavored water vapor. They can be traced back to 1963 but were never commercialized until 2003. Their use has been growing in recent years, and teenagers here caught the trend last summer.

“I smoked for the first time last June,” senior Jessica Henschel said. “I do it for the effect. I don’t own one so I don’t do it religiously.”

A recent survey found that 35 percent of students have at least tried smoking an E-Cig. Only 10 percent of students actually own one. Data from a 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that 2.8 percent of all high school students nationwide smoked E-cigs. That’s up from 1.5 percent in 2011. Clearly Henschel is not alone. Senior Riley Remington began to notice the trend as an exchange student in Berlin, Germany.

“I started last year, I didn’t do it very frequently but a lot of my friends did it so I did it with them,” Remington said. “Near the beginning of the summer I started really picking it up and doing it regularly.”

When Remington came back she was surprised to see that E-cigs had caught on in the States.

“When I got back I went and hung out with some kids and every single kid at the party I was at had an E-cig,” Remington said. “There was not one person without one.”

Since they have been on the market for over 10 years now, why are students picking them up now? According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is due to increased advertising and availability. What’s reason students don’t stop using them?

“I heard that they taste good,” Remington said with a smirk on her face.

Health risks? Debate ensues over safety of devices

The Food and Drug administration (FDA) published a study in 2009 regarding the health risks that come along with smoking E-cigs. The results found detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals. One of the toxins (specifically diethylene glycol, an ingredient in commonly used in antifreeze) was found to make up 1 percent of a cartridge tested by the FDA. Still not many other studies have been done. This leaves a lot of room for misconceptions.

“I do have an E-cig but I have no idea what it will do for my health,” junior Sidney LaLonde said. “When I got mine, it didn’t come with anything that said what was actually in it.”

Some are looking at the devices as a healthier and legal alternative to smoking cigarettes, arguing that it takes the temptation away from actually trying a cigarette.

“I think it will not affect your lungs as much as regular cigarettes but it will give you a reliance on an unnatural substance if you smoke the ones with nicotine,” Hentschel said.

One misconception is that E-cigs can help you to quit smoking. While this claim might be true in the long run, according to the same FDA study there is not enough evidence to support it right now. There has been no research done to prove that using E-cigs can successfully help people quit cigarettes. More research is expected to be done on the topic by the FDA.

“I just think that no one should ever have a reliance on a substance because it’s not normal and you’re constantly spending money on something unnecessary,” Hentschel said.

New law: State Senators seek to ban minors from using E-cigs

Currently the State Legislature is looking at a bill that would ban minors from using and purchasing E-cigs. The bill would treat them just like cigarettes.

“Senator Glenn Anderson has always been of the opinion that we must do all that we can to enforce the restrictions that are already on the books to protect our children from habit-forming addictive substances like cigarettes,” Scott Hendrickson, Legislative Aide to Anderson said. “While there are differences between regular cigarettes and electronic cigarettes, the addictive nature of the nicotine is the same. For that reason, Anderson believes that the same restrictions that we have for cigarettes regarding children should also be in place for electronic cigarettes as well.”

Anderson is a co-sponsor of the bill along with State Senator Rick Jones. Anderson’s staff is hopeful that the bill will move through the legislative process quickly.

What students often don’t understand is that none of these laws are in place yet.

“I think the confusion [of students thinking they can’t have them] is because they are getting their information from the establishments they are buying them from,” Derek Gerencer, Ottawa County Sheriff’s school liaison Officer said.

Places where the E-cigs are sold may have rules in place restricting the purchase of them from minors but according to Gerencer they do not restrict the actual use of the flavor or nicotine refills. Gerencer feels that legislation will eventually be passed to fix this.

Even though students may smoke legally, this does not allow them to use them in school. The school still see’s E-cigs as “smoking paraphernalia” and students caught with them on campus will be suspended.

“While there has not yet been a firm commitment for [passing] this, it does look like the bill will likely be moved to the full Senate in the next few weeks,” Hendrickson said.

Even with the bill in place, Remington believes that won’t stop smokers.

“I think it is just like alcohol it is just like marijuana, it is just like cigarettes,” Remington said. “People will find a way around it. It will probably just aggravate a lot of people more than anything but it is not going to stop minors from using them.”

But for students like LaLonde, the bill makes sense.

“If 16 year olds can buy them, then eighth graders have a bigger chance of having someone get them for them,” LaLonde said. “Even though you can buy juice without any nicotine in it, I think it would make it harder for younger kids to get them.”

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