Cumberland parents warned about risks of youth 'vaping'

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CUMBERLAND — In 1973, Brownsville Station glorified a popular trend among youth with its hit song “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”

Forty-five years later, thanks to the availability and concealability of electronic cigarettes, the kids are sometimes doing it in the school library, too.

“We’ve had people admit that they go into the library, in between bookshelves, and blow it in their shirt, and nobody ever knows … it’s never detected,” despite how many people are around at the time, Cumberland Police Lt. David Young said Jan. 31 during a public forum on youth vaping held at Greely High School.

“In this library? At our school, or somewhere else?,” one parent in the audience asked.

“Everywhere,” responded Beth Blakeman-Pohl, program director with Casco Bay Create Awareness Now.

That coalition, which hosted the forum, works with schools, law enforcement and other groups to battle youth substance abuse in Cumberland, Falmouth, Freeport, North Yarmouth, Pownal and Yarmouth.

“It’s not just a Greely, or a Cumberland community (issue),” but rather a rapidly-growing trend across the country that often slips under the notice of parents and can produce harmful affects about which their children may be unaware, Blakeman-Pohl said.

“Vaping” refers to the inhalation and exhalation of vapor (technically, aerosol) from an electronic vaping device, otherwise known as an electronic cigarette or e-cigarette, according to information provided at the forum. Small lithium batteries power the devices, heating up a liquid (e-juice) contained in a cartridge (also called a pod) to create an aerosol, resembling a fog, that is breathed into the lungs and out through the nose and mouth.

E-cigarettes can be found in pre-packaged and disposable forms both in stores and online. Since they are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the contents are not labeled, so the amount of nicotine or other chemicals is unknown.

“A lot of the times we’ll have the kids come up and say ‘I’m just smoking water, it’s just vapor,’ or ‘I’m just smoking an e-juice of Swedish Fish flavor,'” Krista Walker of Portland’s Public Health division said. “But keep in mind that most of the time there’s going to be nicotine in there.”

“I think as the years go on … we’ll start to see that it will be included on the packaging,” she added.

Youths are getting e-cigarettes from friends and family members and sharing them, Walker explained, noting that device prices can range from $10 to more than $60. Not only can the devices be easily concealed, but they also do not give off a strong odor, making them simpler to hide, she added.

School Administrative District 51 bans all smoking from its premises, including vaping devices. The rule applies to all ages, students and staff alike.

Cumberland Police Chief Charles Rumsey noted that the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, done a year ago, found that 15 percent of high school students in the state had used an e-cigarette in the prior month.

“Maybe you’ve heard about some of this stuff, but you may not have seen it, or you might not know a ton about it,” Rumsey said. “And so we felt it was pretty important to come and chat with you and show you some of this stuff, so you could actually get your hands on it.”

The chief showed off one e-cigarette brand, called JUUL, popular enough to come with its own lingo.

“If you’re vaping with a JUUL, you’re JUULing,” Rumsey said.

“JUUL was designed with smokers in mind,” juulvapor.com states. “With its unique satisfaction profile, simple interface, flavor variety and lack of lingering smell, JUUL stands out as a genuinely satisfying vapor alternative for adult smokers.”

The website does add that the product is for “adult smokers seeking a satisfying alternative to cigarettes.”

Rumsey exhibited the vaporizer section of a JUUL, which contains a battery, recharged by use of a USB plug.

“If you see one of these little USB plugs, you might think it’s a thumb drive, or a flash drive, or something that somebody would have data on,” he explained.

When the battery is charged, it is connected to a cartridge containing the liquid, which is heated up, vaporized, and inhaled. Those cartridges come in a variety of appealing flavors, like bubble gum, chocolate cotton candy, gummy bears or Jolly Ranchers, as opposed to your traditional cigarette smoke odor.

The flavors may sound benign, but the chemicals in each cartridge are equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, according to Blakeman-Pohl.

“That’s a lot,” she said, particularly “when they say they’re going through one or two pods a week.”

Blakeman-Pohl said she has heard from parents who aren’t concerned, likening vaping to munching on candy cigarettes, since the product is being labelled as absent of nicotine.

But decaf coffee still has some trace of caffeine, and “near beer” a small about of alcohol, she noted.

“From what we understand, every one of these liquid vape products that’s being sold in America has some level of nicotine in it,” Rumsey said. “The nicotine isn’t the main driver when you’re seeing the advertisements, but the goal is to get people hooked on this stuff so they can continue to sell their products.”

E-juice can also contain THC and alcohol, which is not possible to discern without testing, according to Blakeman-Pohl.

In cases where one suspects vaping is taking place, an anonymous tip line is available at cascobaycan.org/anonymous-tip-line, and tips can also be texted to 274637 using the keyword “UCANTIP.”

Contact Blakeman-Pohl at beth@cascobaycan.org or 688-8816, or Rumsey at crumsey@cumberlandmaine.com or 829-6391, for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Cumberland Police Chief Chip Rumsey shows off a popular electronic cigarette Jan. 31 during a public forum on youth “vaping” at Greely High School.

Cumberland Police Chief Chip Rumsey displays the various parts of an e-cigarette. From top down, they are the vaporizer, cartridge, and USB plug for charging the device’s battery.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.