The truth about vaping: Naperville forum to educate teens on the risks, consequences

Naperville forum to educate teens on the risks of e-cigarettes

From bathrooms at high schools or teen centers or houses, they emerge - chemicals in their lungs, evidence on their social media feeds.

They've been using an e-cigarette - vaping, as it's often called, or juuling - to inhale liquids infused with nicotine and flavors, and they're following an increasing trend, especially among youth.

One parent in Naperville who has taken notice of the rise in youth use of e-cigarettes is working with the Alive Center, the SUCCESS parent group in Naperville Unit District 203 and 360 Youth Services to plan a forum to address it.

Keri King, a board member of the Alive Center and a leader of SUCCESS, said the increase in e-cigarette use among teens also ties in to problematic social media use, excessive screen time and mental health concerns.

Why? The answer is identity, King said.

"When they vape, they want other people to know about it. They videotape themselves doing it. They want people to know that they're doing it, and they use social media as a way" to show it, King said. "It's part of the culture."

And in teen culture, nothing happens in a vacuum.

"As complex as they are, it's all interrelated," King said. "If you're establishing your identity online, there's a direct correlation in terms of mental health and screen time and self satisfaction and whether or not you're happy or you're sad or depressed."

That's why King has arranged for Matt Cassity, project coordinator of the Community Alliance for Prevention with 360 Youth Services, to share the risks of vaping during a free presentation from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Alive Center, 500 W. Fifth Ave.

The event, called "Let's Talk Series: True Effects of Vaping" will be an educational one, with a focus on explaining that e-cigarettes are merely a new delivery method for the same addictive chemical - nicotine - that's found in traditional combustible cigarettes.

"Education is almost always the big key, especially with something like e-cigarettes, which is more or less a new product," Cassity said. "For some people. that's part of the allure - it's a device, it's something new, it's an accessory."

Cassity first wants teens and their parents to know "vaping" is something of an industry marketing term, and something of a misnomer. It's not harmless water vapor that is produced by e-cigarettes, but an aerosol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There are harmful chemicals that come out of aerosols," he said.

And while many e-cigarettes like the popular Juul device are discreet, looking like pens or flash drives, Cassity said they can be filled with liquids or pods from vape shops, tobacco stores, gas stations or websites that have high concentrations of nicotine or even marijuana. Although the devices don't produce smoke, Cassity said the jury is still out on how dangerous e-cigarettes are to human lungs.

"Taking any artificial thing into your lungs is probably not a healthy choice," he said. "You don't expel as much as you bring in."

Among the 3,000 teens each year who use the Alive Center near Naperville North High School, Executive Director Kandice Henning said there was a short-lived problem with vaping in the bathrooms last year.

"We nipped it in the bud and we haven't had an issue since," Henning said. "The stuff is so hard to see these days."

The Alive Center is hosting the "Let's Talk Series" event against vaping as a way to further encourage teens to find productive ways to face the challenges of school, social life and identity, Henning said.

"We really want to provide kids with a positive space," she said, "where they can learn positive behaviors and positive activities so they don't have to go search for negative behaviors."

Keri King, a board member of the Alive Center for teens in Naperville, is passionate about preventing teens from vaping, or using e-cigarettes to ingest liquids containing flavored nicotine or marijuana. She's helped coordinate a forum about the topic that's set for 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Alive Center. Courtesy of Alive Center
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