LYNN — Vaping, which is prevalent among students in Lynn Public Schools, is becoming a national epidemic, said School Committee member John Ford on Thursday night.
Ford was basing his statement on the six deaths from and more than 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with using e-cigarettes, across 33 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that have been reported to the CDC as of last Friday.
Teenage students vape in the bathrooms in the district’s schools and don’t appear to understand the potential adverse impact on their lungs, because the research into the health effects of e-cigarettes hasn’t been available. Only now are those effects starting to be seen, said School Committee member Lorraine Gately.
With that in mind and citing an increase in e-cigarette use, Michael Geary, assistant director of health and wellness for Lynn Public Schools, asked the School Committee if the district’s Health Advisory Committee could make vaping one of its two goals this year. The panel voiced their support of the proposal.
“My mom started smoking when she was 12 years old and now she has lung cancer,” said School Committee member Michael Satterwhite. “Had she not smoked, we wouldn’t be here. Just like when cigarettes came out, they didn’t know the impact of it. We don’t want our kids dying.”
The advisory committee, comprised of administrators, members of the community, teachers and students and is aimed at making sure the district is in compliance with health regulations, will look at what can be done to prevent vaping in schools going forward.
Already, there are some preventive measures in place, such as checking the bathrooms periodically throughout the day, Geary said.
The new focus of the district’s Health Advisory Committee follows the city’s Board of Health vote in June to ban all flavored nicotine and tobacco products from being sold in retail stores. The ban, which goes into effect on Oct. 1 and does not include menthol, wintergreen and mint, is aimed at reducing vaping among kids.
More than 150 Massachusetts cities and towns have adopted similar bans. The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, citing the vaping-related lung illness and increase in teenage vaping.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017, 3.6 million middle and high school students were using tobacco products, with 2.1 million favoring e-cigarettes.
There are more than 8,000 flavors, which are designed to attract young people as they take away the harshness of nicotine, according to Joyce Redford, director of the North Shore/Cape Ann Tobacco Policy Program.
School Committee member Brian Castellanos said although smoking under 21 is illegal, he sees vaping among kids all the time through his job as a social worker with the Department of Children and Families. Steps need to be taken to prevent access, he said.
“It’s highly addictive, nicotine,” Castellanos said. “It’s supposed to be a fun thing to do socially and we’ve got to disconnect the social piece to it. I think increasing other opportunities for our youth — if they’re not getting into vaping, we’ve got to give them options to do other things than that.”