Vaping is at epidemic proportions in Black Hills area high schools as well as schools across our state and nation.

School officials at Sturgis and Belle Fourche say in speaking with students they estimate that more than half of the students in their high schools have tried or are using vaping products.

In an attempt to curb usage among teens, South Dakota lawmakers are considering banning many flavors of vaping products.

The bill, as currently written, would put a South Dakotan flavor to federal policies that ban fruit, candy, and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarette. The proposed law would allow mint flavors.

Generically known as e-cigarettes, the vaping pens and similar devices are legal for adults, some of whom say their use has helped them quit smoking. Users inhale from the devices which heat liquid gels into an aerosol containing nicotine and flavored compounds.

Buying, possessing, or using vaping devices or gels is illegal for people under 18 in South Dakota. Another bill introduced this year will change the state’s minimum age for buying or using tobacco products from 18 to 21. That legislation cleans up state law to be compliant with federal policies that recently upped the age requirement to 21.

Joe Williams, assistant principal at Sturgis Brown High School, said that among the devices and vaping cartridges he has confiscated from students, flavors included vanilla, blueberry lemon and strawberry-filled donut.

Williams believes the ban may help slow the usage of vaping devices.

“It can’t hurt,” he said. “They are certainly attracted to the flavors.”

Mathew Raba, principal at Belle Fourche High School, said that the students he encounters are using the fruity flavors.

“I think that banning those flavors can only help,” he said.

So why is vaping so popular?

Williams believes it is because the nicotine content in vaping is equivalent to that of a pack of cigarettes so teens become addicted quickly.

When inhaled, nicotine triggers a number of chemical reactions that result in temporary feel-good sensations. Those sensations include relaxation, alertness or focus, calmness and euphoria. 

Nicotine’s pleasurable effects combined with its short half-life leave people feeling like they need another dose soon after the first one. This results in a vicious cycle of addiction. 

Nicotine is so addictive that the National Institutes of Health call it as addictive as heroin and cocaine.

And we are just learning that vaping can cause illnesses and even death. But because there is little know about more side-effects of vaping, Williams says it makes it difficult to present credible anti-vaping message to students.

“I fear we will lose a generation to using this because we don’t know what it will do,” he said.

Raba agreed saying that to get a handle on the vaping epidemic, education needs to begin in middle school.

“It’s really challenging to get them to change their mind when they are already using. We need to stop them before they start,” he said.

At SBHS, students do watch videos in health class about the hazards of vaping. And those who are caught vaping are sent to a counseling session through the Sturgis Action for the Betterment of the Community.

“We’re trying to be proactive, but the usage just keeps snowballing,” Williams said.

Hopefully, state lawmakers will pass this new legislation and give our schools a tool that may help turn the tide on this epidemic.

Black Hills Pioneer

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