This story has been updated to include a response from JUUL.

COUNTY—During his delivery of the Wayne County Drug and Alcohol Commission (DAC) Annual Report to the Board of Commissioners, Director Jeffrey Zerechak noted vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes and JUULs, has “...become a huge problem in schools.”

“Instead of cigarettes, a lot of kids have switched to using these e-cigarettes,” Zerechak stated, noting the level of nicotine contained within an electronic cigarette “...far exceeds that of actual cigarettes, thereby designed just like cigarettes were to create an addiction and repeat users.”

Use of e-cigarettes, and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) is often called “vaping.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine...flavorings, and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol.”

E-cigarettes are heated by a battery-powered heating element.

The aerosol--containing ultra-fine particles, “volatile organic compounds,” “cancer-causing chemicals,” and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead, according to the CDC--is inhaled into a user's lungs and can also be inhaled second-hand by passers by.

Zerechak explained vaping awareness and informational presentations have worked their way into the preventative materials the agency delivers to students of Western Wayne, Wayne Highlands and Wallenpaupack Area School Districts.

The DAC Prevention Program includes educational strategies, evidence-based prevention programming, student support groups, professional technical assistance/trainings and participation on student assistance program teams with partner schools.

During the fiscal year running from July 2017 through June 2018, Wayne County DAC served a total of 1,224 students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Zerechak noted another issue with e-cigarettes is they carry the potential to be used to smoke marijuana.

“As of right now, that's not what the schools are reporting seeing,” he said, “but there's absolutely no doubt because they operate with water vapor, marijuana could be placed into those instead of the substance that has nicotine.”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared e-cigarette usage an epidemic among young Americans late last year.

According to the Surgeon General, e-cigarette usage among high school students increased 78 percent in the past year such that one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students currently smoke e-cigarettes, a total of 3.6 million youth nationwide.

The Surgeon General cautions that, “nicotine exposure during adolescence can impact learning, memory and attention,” and increases the likelihood an adolescent becomes addicted to other substances later in life.

According to the CDC, nicotine prevents synapses from forming correctly in developing adolescent brains.

According to the Surgeon General, the largest market share of e-cigarette sales are JUUL pods, small, rectangular devices which look like USB flash drives.

The Surgeon General notes “a typical JUUL pod contains about as much nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes,” and utilize “nicotine salts” which allow larger amounts of nicotine to be inhaled “with less irritation than the free-base nicotine that has traditionally been used in tobacco products.

In a later email, JUUL has provided the following statement:

“We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. That is why we have taken the most dramatic and aggressive steps of any other manufacturer in the industry to prevent underage use with the JUUL Labs Action Plan.

“We suspended the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our industry leading e-commerce site, exited our U.S. Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use. 

"In addition, we strongly support raising the minimum purchase age for cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products to 21 in Pennsylvania. We look forward to working with lawmakers at at the federal, state and local levels to achieve this end."

More information regarding e-cigarettes is available from https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov and www.cdc.gov.

Information about educational programs offered by the Wayne County DAC is available by calling 570-253-6022 or clicking on the “Drug and Alcohol” link under the “Human Services” tab on the county website: www.waynecountypa.gov.