Teen vaping has become an epidemic in Nassau County public schools and nationally, according to officers from the county police department’s 3rd Precinct.
At a community forum Wednesday night at the New Hyde Park Road School, precinct commanding officer Gregory Abruzzo, deputy commanding officer Daniel O’Connor and problem-oriented police officers spoke about the increase in and dangers of the new smoking trend.
Third precinct POP officers Joseph Oginski and Sherman Payami said that students in the precinct’s jurisdiction, the largest in the county at nearly 75 square miles, have picked up the dangerous habit and are actively smoking while in school.
Vaping is the use of a handheld, compact electronic device to heat up and smoke a combustible fluid. An atomizer in the device, when it is “pulled,” or breathed in, heats up the fluid electronically, rather than require an open flame as cigarettes do. Fluid is often flavored and contains chemicals like nicotine, the addictive element in cigarettes.
According to Oginski, the popular vape brand Juul Labs sells pods, fluid-filled cartridges that plug into vapes, that contain as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.
“That is terrible,” Oginski said. “This is getting into the hands of young kids.”
“This a massive amount of nicotine,” POP officer Jesse Cooper said.
According to a recently published paper, Juul’s introduction of five percent nicotine pods spurred a “nicotine arms race,” of competitors to increase the content of nicotine in their vaping fluids, CNN reported.
Some devices are bulkier than others, but Juul’s and other popular brands are as slim and small as a pen or USB drive, making them incredibly easy to conceal while in school, Oginski said.
Juul devices are available for sale online and at most convenience stores, like 7-Eleven. Advertisements for the devices and their pods are prominently displayed in the windows of the popular chain, Payami said.
“Just take a look next time you go,” Payami said.
School principals have confiscated dozens of the devices over the past few months, according to Oginski. Some schools have taken measures such as installing vape detectors in bathrooms, Oginski said.
A major part of the epidemic, according to Oginski, is the marketing of Juul’s and other devices. Vaping has become a socially acceptable normality in today’s culture and are “not branded as dangerous as cigarettes,” Oginski said, and Payami added that many feature colorful designs and pop-culture references.
“It looks like a toy,” Payami said.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said that companies shouldn’t be able to design the devices to “make it attractive to children.”
An additional danger the rise in teen vaping poses is the realm of marijuana-related vaping, according to Oginski.
THC, the psychoactive element present in marijuana, can be extracted from the flower and collected as an oil. That oil can be packaged as cartridge and is compatible with vape devices, allowing users to smoke the substance in plain sight.
The recognizable odor that marijuana emits is not present in the THC cartridges, Oginski said. In one instance, Oginski needed to hold a cartridge directly in front of his nose to identify that the fluid was, in fact, THC, he said.
Vaping trends are changing by the month, and students now have the ability to smoke marijuana while sitting in class undetected, according to Oginski.
Though the recreational use of marijuana is illegal in the state, THC cartridges are still easily acquired by use through means of online ordering and transport from other states where the substance is completely legal, according to Oginski.
In his State of the State address last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the establishment of an adult-use cannabis program in the state, but did not include a timeframe for any legislation.
“You don’t want this to get into the hands of a 12-year-old,” Oginski said.