Ahead of a statewide ban on all flavored-tobacco products, local law enforcement, education and health experts opened Wednesday a virtual discussion surrounding the dangers of teen vaping and urged parents to take action.
The city of Santa Clarita’s 2020 Parent Resource Symposium consisted of a panel that included Capt. Justin Diez of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, who moderated the symposium, Detective Nashla Barakat and Intervention Specialist Travis Sabadin from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; Dr. Darrin Privett of Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital; and Hart High School Assistant Principal Elizabeth Wilson.
“I think it’s safe to say we all know that middle school and high school students are very impressionable,” said Diez. “When you add the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re in during this year, it is easy to see how peer pressure and stress can lead to harmful decisions as parents and guardians. It is our job to protect our children from turning to vapes, drugs, alcohol and more.”
Why teens vape and its effects
Vaping has become one of the most popular forms of substance use and abuse among teenagers. In fact, just last year alone, an estimated 5.3 million high school and middle school students have used e-cigarettes, according to Privett.
Besides peer pressure, one of the most attractive aspects of vaping among youth is the varied flavors available, such as chocolate, mints and fruits, packed in small and sleek devices that can easily be hidden and mistaken for highlighters, pens, USBs or lipsticks.
Usage is also associated with the belief that e-cigarettes are less harmful than other forms of tobacco, but while some products do not contain nicotine, most do, said Privett.
“Exposure of high doses of nicotine disrupts brain development in teens, which continues to develop until you’re approximately 26 years old,” he said. “Teenagers who use e-cigarettes disrupt brain development and changes connections within the brain cells, which affect learning, modifies mood and behavior, alters impulse control and attention span, and increases anxiety and depression, and significantly increases the risk of addiction.”
Trends in and around SCV
The drugs that teens consume today aren’t what they used to be, said Sabadin, who warned of an upward trend in mixing fentanyl with other drugs.
Watching for changes in their behavior is an important tool to use in finding out if children are vaping, Sabadin advised. He and Barakat suggested monitoring their social media and mobile payment accounts like Venmo, tuning into their conversations with friends, being aware of any attitude changes, searching their rooms and cars for any possible vape shop receipts and, most importantly, initiating a conversation with them.
Wilson, who said she’s confiscated multiple vaping products, suggested parents search for these devices in areas they probably haven’t thought of looking before.
“If there’s a small cut anywhere in the backing of (a backpack), I guarantee you there’s a vape at the bottom of that backpack,” she said. “You need to feel the straps, feel the backing of it, feel the bottom of it — because that’s where they’re putting (the vaping product).”
If you feel your child is already addicted to drugs, Sabadin advised to reach out to the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Juvenile Intervention Team, or J-Team, for resources, which uses a three-part approach: education, intervention and enforcement.