By Chris Rotolo |
OCEANPORT – PJ O’Connell can still recall scenes from his high school days, in particular the cloud of cigarette smoke that consumed him each time he opened the men’s room door.
As the director of Shore Regional High School security, O’Connell has noticed that, though the smoke has dissipated, a dangerous and addictive fire still burns.
O’Connell appeared at the Maple Place School in Oceanport on Thursday where the former Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office detective delivered a presentation titled “Vaping: What Every Parent Should Know,” a program sponsored by the borough’s Drug Education Initiative Committee (DEIC) and used to inform concerned residents about the dangers of vaping, as well as warning signs that their children may be partaking.
“I have children, the youngest of which is now a freshman in college,” O’Connell said. “They’re the ones who started cluing me in that it’s not cigarettes anymore. It’s vaping.”
While working in the high school setting O’Connell has caught a number of students vaping on school grounds, so he began to educate himself on the trend.
For further insight, he spoke to several of his own friends who were vaping as way to wean themselves off cigarettes, a tactic O’Connell admits can be useful for longtime smokers looking to beat the habit.
However, the further O’Connell dug, the more concerned he became.
“The more research I did, it became clear that these companies are targeting kids. And that’s the biggest part of this presentation and what I try to get across to parents. Their kids think this is safe. They see that it’s safer than cigarettes, but since when are we using cigarettes as the bar for what’s healthy and what isn’t?”
O’Connell presented to nearly 30 parents of local students and drew an audible gasp from the congregation when he began discussing the science behind the dangers of vaping.
“I get a lot of my information from our science teachers at the high school and they explained to me that, when you heat a chemical, it’s altered to become something completely different. And that’s what’s happening here,” said O’Connell, who referenced a recent study by the University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) and another by Joseph Allen – an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard – both of which indicate the risks of vaping.
In March UCSF tested urine samples from the bodies of teens who used electronic cigarettes and vaping devices and the study revealed elevated levels of five different toxins that are referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), all of which are known or suspected carcinogens.
In April 2016, Allen’s report found at least “one flavoring chemical was detected in 47 of 51 unique vaping flavors tested.” A chemical known as diacetyl was also detected in 39 of 51 tested flavors. Diacetyl is connected with bronchiolitis obliterans, other lung diseases and respiratory infections.
It’s the various flavors of vaping liquids that has O’Connell most concerned, a sentiment shared by Oceanport resident Tara Sweeney, who was in attendance Thursday.
“I have friends who have used. But they’re adults who are using this as a tool and it works for them,” Sweeney said. “But for kids to be doing this and to be attracted to the taste of the flavors, it’s very scary. We don’t know the long-term impact of what using does. But we know that there can be nicotine involved. We know there can be carcinogens present. And we know that they can be used to smoke marijuana. Vaping is definitely a concern.”
In March, Hackensack Meridian Health at Riverview Medical Center pulmonologist Adrian Pristas, M.D., confirmed to The Two River Times that vaping devices and e-cigarettes do produce nicotine and, due to the addictive nature of the chemical, these devices can act as a gateway to cigarette use.
“Studies have shown that those who are 14 to 30 years of age and vape are four times more likely to start smoking,” said Pristas, segueing into one of O’Connell’s biggest reveals of the evening.
“Who are the big corporations that own these vaping companies,” O’Connell asked. “It all goes back to big tobacco.”
R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company is a subsidiary of Reynolds American, Inc., one of the largest tobacco companies in the United States.
MarkTen is an e-cigarette owned by Altria Group, another major player in the American tobacco industry, formerly known as cigarette-production giant Philip Morris Companies Inc.
It’s their marketing and business savvy that O’Connell says has let these companies transform a tool to help smokers quit into an attractive device for new clients.
“They want the ingredients to fall under trade secrets,” O’Connell said. “If they make the best flavor of cotton candy, they can’t share that information or else a competitor will make it. The regulators say that’s okay and everything is FDA approved. But it really isn’t, because once the chemicals are heated they become harmful.”
If you missed the presentation but are interested in receiving more information on vaping, you can contact O’Connell at email@example.com.
This article was first published in the April 19-26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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