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Vaping

Lincoln Community High School students, from left, sophomore Garrett Slack, 15, sophomore Konnor Shaw, 16, senior Kaylee Winebrinner, 17, and senior Abi Steffens, 17, discuss e-cigarettes Friday in the school's gymnasium. The four attended "Catch My Breath," a youth e-cigarette prevention program from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital Community Health Collaborative.

LINCOLN — Lincoln Community High School students know why some of their peers vape.

"Some people said it's to relieve stress," said Konnor Shaw, 16, a sophomore. "Other people said it's to have fun."

Six in 10 youths have vaped, estimated Kaylee Winebrinner, 17, a senior.

"It's very prevalent," Shaw said.

That's why Angela Stoltzenburg, director of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital Community Health Collaborative, was at Lincoln Community High School last week. She was presenting the third in a four-part series called "Catch My Breath." Other presentations were Sept. 27 and Oct. 11, with the final presentation on Oct. 24.

"Catch My Breath," developed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, provides information to help students make informed decisions about e-cigarettes. Stoltzenburg localized her presentation — delivered to physical education and health classes throughout the day — with information about Illinois and Lincoln.

According to the 2018 Illinois Youth Survey, 42 percent of Logan County high school seniors had used tobacco or a vaping product.

"It shows me that Logan County isn't any different from any other county in the country who are seeing vaping increase among youth," Stoltzenburg said.

Vaping has become a national and statewide controversy in recent weeks with more than 1,299 people sickened and 28 dying nationwide after vaping. Illinois and federal lawmakers are considering banning e-cigarette flavors.

E-cigarette users have said that illegal THC cartridges, not e-cigarette flavors, are to blame for the illnesses. They said a flavors' ban would backfire because e-cigarettes help people to quit cigarette smoking and people may go back to smoking.

Doctors have countered that people who vape should quit vaping after it helps them to quit smoking because vaping is not without harm.

Vaping has increased in the past three years, several Lincoln students said.

"For older people who may have smoked, they use vaping to quit smoking," Winebrinner said. "Kids are using it to have fun."

"Last year, it (e-cigarette usage) exploded," said Assistant Principal David Helm. That's when he began finding e-cigarette products in and around the school.

"This isn't just one person with one cigarette," Helm said. "It's someone using it (an e-cigarette) and then sharing with multiple people. I don't think the students understand the long-term ramifications of vaping."

Stoltzenburg told the students that tobacco and e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive and a leading cause of death.

"Your brain is still growing until age 25," Stoltzenburg said. "It is easier for you to learn new things. It is also easier to get addicted to things."

Stoltzenburg said, when she grew up, fewer young people smoked because so many of their parents and grandparents had smoked and had cancer and emphysema.

Then, vape pens, which "dialed down the nicotine," were developed and marketed to help people quit cigarette smoking. While they did that for some people, "what has actually happened is a whole new generation is addicted to vaping," Stoltzenburg said.

"It does smell good," she said of vaping, "But we know it's not just cotton candy and water. We know it has nicotine. ... When you smoke, the nicotine actually changes the brain — that's why quitting is so hard."

Helm said, "We're not sure of the long-term effects of e-cigarettes. We know there are chemicals going into them."

While nicotine affects brain receptors by helping people to feel good, that's followed by a let-down and, longer term, could lead to depression and anxiety, Helm said.

Lincoln has responded by giving an in-school suspension to anyone caught with a vaping product on campus, Helm said. The city of Lincoln passed an ordinance fining youth caught vaping.

Illinois law prohibits sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to people under 21 but there is no federal law, Stoltzenburg said.

"As a society, we need to extremely regulate it (e-cigarettes) or take it off the shelves," Helm said.

"Trying to keep our country full of healthy people is in all our best interests," Stoltzenburg said.

Youth who vape should speak with a trusted adult to get help quitting, Shaw said. Adults should help and not berate the youth, he said.

"There are other ways to cope with stress," Winebrinner said. "You don't have to vape to have fun."

Garrett Slack, 15, a sophomore, suggested playing sports. Shaw suggested hanging out with friends "but don't bring vaping stuff."

But the students thought the presentations wouldn't change teen vaping use.

"It's hard to stop after you've done it," said Abi Steffens, 17, a senior. "The presentations are telling us what we already know. People already know the risks. People who are doing it accept the risks."

"I hope people pay attention and realize it is bad for you and it could hurt you when you are older and try to stop," Winebrinner said.

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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