COLUMBUS, Ohio — An evolving trend for teenagers to get a nicotine fix is challenging those trying to say ahead of the game. Schools are now looking out for nicotine toothpicks on top of the ever-changing vape devices.
“It’s just the cool thing that kids like,” said Olentangy High School senior, Joshua Gernert.
What some may view as the cool thing to do is sometimes hidden in plain sight. “A lot of students will even do it in class,” Olentangy High School senior, Maggie Powers.
It’s the ever-evolving and increasing e-cigarette trend among teens.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis but I would say things are changing and it really requires us to be vigilant,” said Licking Heights Schools Superintendent, Dr. Philip Wagner.
A trend that has shown its potential dangers. “We had 5 students in crisis even before the school-day started,” said Dr. Wagner. In early February, at Licking Heights high school, medics rushed two students to the hospital after police say the girls got sick using a vape pen.
“I did see one child and their reaction at the school looked very typical and concerning, so I think they ingested something they didn’t expect or the potency was different than they expected,” said Dr. Wagner. In this case, he believes the substance inside it was illegal.
“I think we need to stay on top of it and be more concerned about the content of what’s being ingested as opposed to the medium the vehicle being used,” said Dr. Wagner. Something that is new on Dr. Wagner’s radar are nicotine-infused toothpicks. ABC 6 On Your Side bought two packs of 20 at a vape shop. They come in flavors like cinnamon and peppermint.
The Ohio Department of Education sounded an alarm about nicotine toothpicks in January, stating one pack has just as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Startling news to four Olentangy High School seniors as they tackle teen nicotine addiction starting with vaping. “A lot of students will even do it in class so they’ll pull up their shirt or lean into their backpacks and exhale the smoke,” said Powers.
The students surveyed classmates for a marketing class project and say some admitted older siblings or classmates help them get vapes. “Kids love the flavor and that’s what gets them hooked on it,” said Gernert. But something eye-opening turned up in their research. “We actually know a lot of parents that will buy for their kids and supplying them with it so it’s just adding to the problem,” said Powers.
The end goal is to better inform students; a conversation starter with the hope that it goes beyond the classroom and into the home. “Children don’t often realize the long term effects,” said Dr. Wagner. “I think part of our goal is to educate families through this process and if they could ask the deeper questions and more so explaining to their children about why some of these things could put them at risk."
Some parents are not just talking but taking action. At-home test kits for nicotine use on sold online for less than $10. Reviews for one brand are telling, with parents commenting on how it makes them easier to find out and a great deterrent.
“I think that it’s a good thing to have if you see it being a continuous problem with your child but I think the first step is education,” said Olentangy High School senior, Samantha Billy.
Peer pressure may be one reason some kids start to vape. Knowledge is now motivating some to stop. “Even if it’s just one person that we’re impacting saying I’m going to quit it’s still a great positive impact,” said Powers.
Licking Heights Schools shares at-risk behaviors in health classes to help kids understand potential dangers and also uses social media to help spread awareness.
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