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Mooresville High School holds information night on student vaping

“My focus used to be sports, academics, and Boy Scouts,” said 15-year-old Luka Kinard.

“Within a six-month time period I quit sports, I stopped going to Scout meetings, and my grades plummeted,” he said of the time period after he began vaping to cope with stress and anxiety. The habit led to a nicotine addiction and 39 days in rehab

Kinard, a student at High Point Central High School, shared his story with an audience of parents and students at Mooresville High School on Thursday as part of their information night on student vaping. Other speakers included Dr. Matthew CiRullo of Lake Norman Regional Medical Center, Maj. Ron Chilton of Mooresville Police Department, and  Carleen Crawford, Regional Tobacco Control Manager.

The information night at Mooresville comes after the high school experienced 68 referrals for vaping this school year, including one emergency situation caused by vaping. The trend follows national statistics on student vaping.

Nationally, there has been a 78 percent increase in vaping among high school students and 40 percent among middle school students Crawford said in her presentation providing background on the youth epidemic. Crawford made clear the reason why it was easy for young people to get hooked: nicotine.

“Nicotine is actually more addictive than cocaine,” she said. “It’s more addictive than heroin.”

Another issue: often students aren’t aware of how much nicotine they’re vaping.

“They don’t do a very good job of promoting how much nicotine is actually in their pods,” said Dr. CiRullo, speaking on the manufacturer Juul whose sleek e-cigs have become popular among youth. (Juul pods originally always contained 5 percent nicotine — equivalent to the nicotine in one pack of cigarettes; after the FDA crackdown last year, the e-cig manufacturer released a 3 percent version.)

CiRullo explained that the effects of nicotine are particularly significant when it comes to youth because the brain continues to develop until the age of 25. He said that if nicotine is introduced while the brain is developing, synapses in the brain are affected, resulting in difficulty to focus and concentrate, mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. 

CiRullo also discussed other side effects of vaping, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, and a lesser known danger — that accidental ingestion of vaping liquids, especially in the case of toddlers, can result in death.

In addition to nicotine, Chilton of the Mooresville Police Department warned students may not always know what they’re taking into their bodies when they vape.

“I think that’s something that young people, parents alike, need to think about,” Chilton said. “It might be packaged as one thing when it might be in fact another.”

Chilton told the story of an emergency situation, also experienced in nearby counties, where a student vaped a substance that landed them in need of immediate medical attention. The student had vaped a synthetic cannabinoid, believing it was CBD oil. 

“As some of my narcotics investigators who worked this case told me, this was basically the equivalent of bath salts,” Chilton said of the synthetic substance, which turned out to be a Schedule 1 controlled substance (defined by the federal government as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”).

Chilton said the vape store clerk who sold the synthetic substances was charged with nine felony drug counts and placed under $75,000 bond. 

“One of our greatest concerns in sharing with the public is that this stuff is not something to mess around with,” Chilton said. “It’s almost like taking and playing the game of Russian Roulette with your bodies.”

Chilton had a specific message for parents. “Talk to your child about the dangers about cigarettes and vaping, and be a nosy parent,” he said. “You might even want to check your bank statements if they use a card linked to your bank account … It’s your responsibility as a parent to watch out for your children and get them on the right path.”

At the end of the information night, Mooresville High School Principal Eric Schwarzenegger shared that the high school and middle school would be taking on new disciplinary action when it comes to incidences of student vaping, including out-of-school suspension, adding educational components, and adding after school detention. Tobacco products would be handled the same as vaping while vapes with THC or CBD would be treated as a greater offense. 

“None of us got into this profession to suspend students because we understand the weight of that,” he said. “We don’t take those decisions lightly so we’ve put a lot of thought into this plan.”

Schwarzenegger added that many of the students that have been caught for vaping are actually students that have never gotten in trouble for anything before.

“At the end of the day we’ve got to get parents on our side about this,” Schwarzenegger said on the measures to curb student vaping. “When you leave here tonight, be ambassadors for us.”

For more on student vaping, see our series here 

Yasmin Bendaas

Yasmin Bendaas is a Science writer.  A North Carolina native, she received her master’s degree in Science & Medical Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, where she was a Park Fellow. She received her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 2013 from Wake Forest University, where she double-minored in journalism and Middle East and South Asia studies. As an undergraduate student, Bendaas gained insight into public health when she interned at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a statewide grantmaker focused on rural health, including access to primary care, diabetes, community-centered prevention, and mental health and substance abuse. 

As a journalist, Bendaas has been funded twice by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for fieldwork in Algeria — first to cover a disappearing indigenous tattoo tradition, and again to look at how climate change affects rural sheepherding practices.