ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health want to take a stance on underage smokeless tobacco use and will ask the high school to create a chapter of The 84, a statewide initiative
to inform teens about the dangers of smoking.
The Board of Health heard from Joyce Brewer of Allied Health Educational Center last Wednesday about smokeless tobacco use among youth and the health issues it presents.
"We all know cigarettes are bad, and if you were to ask a teenager if they used cigarettes they would likely say no they are bad for you," Brewer said. "The message we are trying to get out now is e-cigarettes are bad as well."
Brewer specifically discussed Juul brand electronic cigarettes that utilize a liquid-filled pod, which Brewer equated to about a pack of cigarettes.
"They are the hottest thing on the market and cheap, sweet and they were easy to get," she said. "A pod is worth a pack of cigarettes…and you just plug in the pod and as the youth would say rip it."
She said a single pod costs around $4, come in a variety of flavors, and that sales are focused on kids.
She cited a preliminary study that states more than 20 percent of Berkshire County high school students have used such a device.
There is a perception that the devices do not carry the ill health effects of cigarettes, Brewer said, and that they actually help people quit smoking. She said there have been instances when parents have purchased the electronic cigarettes for their kids because they believe them to be harmless.
Brewer said it is quite the opposite and it is still not sure how these inhaled chemicals will affect people.
"The chemicals in the pods are not supposed to be inhaled and we are seeing increased instances of asthma, bronchitis, and colds in youth," she said. "Some teenagers are using them for weight loss."
She said kids are becoming addicted without even knowing.
"When they don’t have their pod they will act like anyone who hasn’t had their cigarettes," she said. "They will get nauseous, cranky, headaches — they don’t understand what it is like to have an addiction and we need to help them understand that."
Board member Bruce Shepley, a registered nurse who often works in the schools, said he has noticed that more kids are using the electronic cigarettes and even complaining of the effects.
He said gone are the days when it was obvious someone is smoking in the bathroom because the electronic cigarettes only give off a faint odor and are hard to detect.
"When you walked into the bathroom back then you could smell the cigarette smoke. You can’t smell these," he said. "I have heard instances of athletes being suspended because they were taking a hit while on the bench. It is so discreet."
Brewer agreed and said one puff is often enough.
"These are made to cross the blood-brain barrier very efficiently," she said. "One puff of a cigarette takes longer to hit than one of these because of the chemicals. They give the rush more efficiently."
This concerned board member Peter Hoyt who said because one inhale is so potent it becomes easier for kids to consume even more increased potential health concerns.
Board member David Rhoads asked if a "sledgehammer" approach would be beneficial and asked if a regulation banning the underage procession of smokeless tobacco would help curb the epidemic.
Brewer said she was not aware of any other community that has done this and said she thought education would be the most beneficial.
"I think we have got get a handle on the best way to provide counseling and education teenagers because this blew up so fast," she said. "We know that the tobacco industry is looking for their next generation."
She said many schools have adopted The 84, which creates a group of kids who engage other students and even legislators about the dangers of smokeless tobacco. The initiative is part of the Department of Public Health's Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program that is a partnership with Health Resources in Action. The number "84" represents the percentage of Massachusetts teenagers who were not smoking when the program began; according to The 84, that percentage is now over 90 percent.
"They don't need a lot of kids, just an adviser and a few kids willing to do peer to peer education," she said. "We are encouraging more schools to do this."
Hoyt said he would reach out to Hoosac Valley and relay this information.
"I am going to approach it this way and reach out to Hoosac Valley," he said. "I am definitely going to recommend this."