The School Zone: News

Chemicals in e-cigarettes


Close to 100 parents, students and interested local residents attended the recent Parent U informational session on vaping, titled “Seeing Through the Smoke.”

Truth be told, as Spring Branch ISD’s Board of Trustees president said at the end of this serious meeting on a timely topic, hundreds more should hear this presentation. “I was hoping there would be standing-room only because this is an important issue,” Trustee Pam Goodson told those gathered in the Spring Branch Education Center auditorium at the Dec. 4 meeting’s close. Several Board members who are also parents attended the session.

The Board considers vaping and related student health and wellness issues a district priority, Goodson also said.

The Parent U vaping session was presented by Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center pharmacy and medical experts, with support from SBISD’s System of Care and counseling staff members. Parents heard about the physical and serious negative effects of using e-cigarettes, or vaping, a harmful fad teens nationwide are now following with startling alacrity.

The numbers are stark: The National Youth Tobacco Survey asserts that while the percentage of youth using tobacco in the past month has dropped 10 percentage points to less than 6 percent in the last eight years, the percent of students who are vaping has risen by double digits to 27.5 percent.

Another startling number: In the past decade, the increase in youth vaping has gone up by 3.6 million students at the secondary level, including middle school use, a meteoric rise.

Between 2017-18, vaping increased 48 percent among middle school students and 78 percent in high school students. Anecdotal and survey research reveals widespread knowledge or recent use of vaping devices by students across the nation. In many cases, parents are unaware of use in their own families.

Parents and staff who attended the Parent U event also learned that the devices that vaporize chemicals for inhaling are sold at convenience and grocery stores, and in candy or fruit “flavors” that imply the use is safe. One top retail brand, JUUL, has removed its mint flavor from the market; it represents 70 percent of past sales for that brand.

Chi Peyton, a pharmacist with Memorial Hermann, shared that 60 percent of teens think the vapor includes only flavoring and do not understand that there are quite harmful ingredients also contained in the vapors. Inhaling aerosolized chemicals damages lungs and inhibits healthy respiration.

Another trend, inhaling essential oils, also is damaging to lungs. Medical providers are starting to see more and more cases of irreparable lung damage, often due to vaping cartridges loaded with THC, or marijuana, or other oils or substances subjected to vaporizing-level temperatures.

The list of chemicals included in most e-cigarettes should be enough to scare anyone away from using this form of nicotine delivery—none of which were intended for human consumption.

Besides nicotine’s addictive factors, which also decreases brain development in young people, here is a list of SOME of other chemicals found in e-cigarettes and their actual or intended uses:

  • Propylene glycol – antifreeze, paint solvent

  • Formaldehyde – disinfectant, embalming fluid

  • Acrolein – weed killer

  • Diacetyl – a chemical associated with Popcorn Lung (a condition that damages the lungs’ smallest airways)

  • Heavy metals – nickel, tin, lead

  • Benzene – chemical from car exhaust

  • Cancer causing chemicals

  • And more!

The families assembled also learned that many e-cigarettes, which were first marketed as a way to stop smoking, actually contain more concentrated levels of the chemical. Some are advertised as having 0 mg of nicotine, while others contain 24 mg. One tobacco cigarette contains 9 mg of nicotine.

Some vaping devices look like electronic versions of tobacco cigarettes with a “glowing” tip that lights up when inhaling takes place. More and more, the devices are disguised as school supplies such as pens, highlighters, USB ports, or even white out containers. 

One parent commented: “We really appreciate all of you answering some tough questions being that this vaping problem has become so big in a short period of time.”

The session ended with a lively question-and-answer period audience, and several heart-wrenching incidents were shared by parents in the audience. One parent whose son is in a drug rehab program, expressed the urgency to educate students at an early age to hopefully prevent vaping from becoming a gateway to even more harmful drug use and addiction.

“If kids are starting to use the vaping at early ages, parents being educated about what to look for and prevent their kids from using maybe be a way to help,” he said.

Memorial Hermann’s Peyton said her view is that vaping is a gateway behavior, one that might lead to opioid experimentation and addiction. More research is needed for a fuller understanding of the long-term human health effects of vaping, she also said

If needed to intervene, she supports parent testing of their children for vaping chemical residues.

Strategies for talking about vaping with youth were shared with the audience, as well as information about how to test at home for the use of the product.

Sara Vercher, the district’s System of Care facilitator serving on the mental health/crisis team, thanked the Board of Trustees for supporting the recent expansion of student prevention services, including the addition of two counselors through the Council on Recovery.

In SBISD, prevention now includes presentations on e-cigarettes, vaping and adolescent brain development to all sixth- and ninth-graders.

The counselors also serve and interact directly with students at the four main high schools, offering intervention through the CHOICE program, which represent groups that address high-risk behaviors of students.

SBISD also outlines, through its Student Code of Conduct, definitions and disciplinary sanctions for tobacco use and vaping. Vercher noted that the district has “responded to the need to address increasing substance use in a positive way.”

Board President Pam Goodson’s closing remarks followed Vercher, echoing the district’s commitment to education, prevention and student support.

A handout of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about vaping was provided.

Parent U event evaluation comments were generally appreciative that addressing this problem locally and nationally is gaining traction. 

“I applaud SBISD for tackling this issue head on,” one evaluator wrote.

A message from a vaping awareness poster seems to sum up the dangers of the fad – Vaping: Liquid Poison.

See and hear for yourself—Dec. 4 Parent U presentation resources are posted on the Family Education, Engagement, Empowerment (Family E3) website: video, slide deck, FAQs.