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MUSKEGON – Smoking isn’t as popular as it used to be, but despite declining rates of cigarette use with today’s youth, teenagers are instead turning to vaping to get their nicotine fix.

In Muskegon County, vaping has grown in popularity in the last couple of years. Use of vaping products went from 17.5-percent in 2016, to 25-percent in 2018 for school age kids.

“What is happening is kids are not smoking anymore. Our smoking rates are going down tremendously, but our vaping rates are going up huge. [...] In 2016 our (Muskegon County) vaping rate was 17.5-percent kids and now we are up to 25-percent in 18’, Community Health Improvement Coordinator Cyndi Powers, Mercy Health Health Project.

“We decided we would do a vaping tool kit for the schools so they have everything they need to combat the vaping issues.”

This tool kit contains a variety of print, video and digital marketing tools that schools can use to help educate and deter students from vaping.

Part of Powers’ job is to conduct smoking cessation classes. She said there are two types of people she has observed that are attracted to vaping. Adults who believe it will help them to quit smoking, and teenagers.

“I see two groups of people who are vaping. I see the adults. It is marketed to them to try and help them quit smoking. But what they are really using it for is to smoke in places where they should not be smoking, because it can be hidden, it is so easy and discreet,” said Powers.

“With the youth, it just exploded, absolutely has exploded in the schools. Number one it is something new, and it is marketed to them that it is not harmful.”

Vaping, is a form of smoking that does not use tobacco, and is sometimes called an e-cigarette. Vaping works by heating a liquid solution known as “juice” that contains nicotine, and turns into vapor.

Tobacco is known to cause a very distinct odor when smoked. Some people may find that odor offensive, and it could possibly be a deterrent in developing the habit. However, vaping doesn’t seem to suffer from that problem. It can come in different flavors and smells. Powers said this might be one reason why teens are choosing to vape over smoking,

Nicotine is an alkaloid compound that is found in plants known as nightshades. It produces a stimulant like effect in people and can be used as an insecticide for plants. It is typically associated with the tobacco plant, but in small quantities is found in plants like potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants.

In addition to containing nicotine, cigarettes contain as many as 600 other ingredients, and when burned produce up to 7,000 chemicals. The dangers of smoking cigarettes is well documented, but Powers’ said the dangers of vaping is still relatively unknown.

However, some of the chemicals used to make vaping “juice” are considered harmful. Some juices have been found to contain chemicals diacetyl, formeldahyde; and the heating coils may leak metal particles like tin, lead and nickel into the vapor.

“It hasn’t been out long enough to do a decent study on it (vaping), but we have seen a lot of popcorn lung in the hospitals. We also know that the youth is using it as a gateway product,” said Powers.

From WebMD, “‘Popcorn lung’ is the nickname for bronchiolitis obliterans. That’s a condition that damages your lungs’ smallest airways and makes you cough and feel short of breath. It’s sometimes caused by breathing in a chemical used to flavor microwave popcorn. But other chemicals or lung illnesses can also cause popcorn lung.”

In addition to developing the vaping tool kit the Health Project has been working with the county school districts to develop consistent policies. Students caught vaping at area schools could be hit with a fine; if they are caught once with a vaporizer the fine is $50, a second violation is $150, and third offense is $300 with a misdemeanor.

The goal, Powers said, is to have all the districts in the county adopt this policy to prevent students from changing schools to avoid punishment.

The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners in 2015 also adopted an ordinance to make it more difficult for minors to obtain vaping products. The ordinance, which was passed in 2015, made it so it was prohibited for minors to possess tobacco products, and provided a definition for what a vapor product was.

Powers said it is her goal to try and raise the age of purchase for nicotine products from 18 to 21. The rationale, she said, is the longer that someone waits to try nicotine the less likely they are to become addicted to it.