Our Lady Star of the Sea students learn about vaping's dangers at assembly

Students at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Grosse Pointe Woods listened to a presentation from CARE of Southeastern Michigan on the dangers of vaping Feb. 4. The assembly, which was attended by students in grades five through eight, featured a talk by Daniel Ament, an Our Lady Star of the Sea alumnus who was hospitalized because of vaping. (Photos by Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

Alternative to cigarettes isn't 'safe,' local experts warn, despite what e-cigarette companies would have kids believe

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The statistics don’t paint a pretty picture.

In 2019, 27.4% of high school students admit to vaping at least once, up from 1.5% in 2011. For middle schoolers, it’s 10.5% in 2019, up from 0.6% in 2011, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Furthermore, 11.7% of 12th graders reported themselves as daily vapers, far surpassing 2.4% of the same age group who smoke cigarettes.

Noah Locke, a community health educator with CARE of Southeastern Michigan, visited Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Grosse Pointe Woods on Feb. 4 to shatter the myth that vaping is a “safe alternative” to smoking.

“Why do people in your age group starting vaping? Because they think it’s safer than cigarettes,” Locke told the assembly of fifth through eighth graders. “It’s a bad day fix, a short-term healer. When you are having a bad day, instead of talking it out with friends, it’s a short-term healer that doesn’t fix problems.”

Vaping makes use of e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems that contain flavoring and other chemicals. There are more than 7,000 chemicals in an e-cigarette, Locke said, including formaldehyde which is used for preserving corpses benzene an industrial chemical used in fuel and acetone a chemical used in fingernail polish remover.

Vaping is the ingestion of these chemicals. The vape product, laced with one of more than 15,000 flavors, goes straight to the brain. The vape product includes nicotine, which causes an addictive sensation, but during ingestion, chemical particles get caught in the user’s throat and lungs, potentially causing major medical problems.

“When you see e-cigarette companies say, ‘E-cigarettes are safer,’ they aren’t saying they are safe, they are just saying they are safer than cigarettes,” Locke said. “There is no such thing as a ‘safe e-cigarette.’”

Daniel Ament, a 2017 Our Lady Star of the Sea graduate and current Grosse Pointe North High School student, shared his experience with vaping and how in 2019, he was hospitalized and need a lung transplant after having breathing complications after vaping. 

The assembly also featured Daniel Ament, a 2017 Star of the Sea graduate, who spoke briefly about his experience with vaping.

Ament, a varsity athlete at Grosse Pointe North High School who had designs to be a Navy SEAL, said he “didn’t vape often,” but last year was hospitalized with breathing problems. Ament spent 20 days on life support and needed a lung transplant. During his procedures and hospitalization, he lost use of his muscles.

“The most successful way to get kids to stop vaping is to give them the facts,” Locke told Detroit Catholic. “When students hear personal experiences from real-life people, people who are like them, that’s powerful. So Daniel’s story, it’s very reflective of their own lives, and to see it happen in their own community, it resonates.”

Starting young

CARE of Southeastern Michigan monitors the rise of youth vaping, Locke said, adding it has surpassed alcohol, marijuana and tobacco as young people's substance of choice.

“We see young people starting to vape between elementary school and middle school, with seventh grade being the median age,” said Kaitlin Maloziec, director of prevention services at CARE of Southeastern Michigan. “Vaping companies are marketing it as a safe alternative to cigarettes, even though the FDA hasn’t approved that statement.”

In 2019, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a temporary ban on e-cigarettes, but the vaping businesses sued, and enforcement of the ban was blocked until the legal dispute is solved.

Noah Locke of CARE of Southeastern Michigan asks students during an assembly about their knowledge of vaping. With more than one-fourth of high school students admitting to using e-cigarettes, Locke said it's imperative young students learn about the dangers. 

Maloziec said the “Tobacco 21” policy signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2019 will help curb youth vaping, but now those who became addicted at 18 or 19 have few resources to kick their habits.

“We have many available options for traditional cigarettes, but none for vaping that is targeted for kids,” Maloziec said. “There is a program called My Life My Quit that has been successful and is targeted for teens, using text messages and email to identity the truth about vaping and coaching them to quit, but there are no evidence-based programs or practices to combat this.”

The anti-vaping assembly was just another way Our Lady Star of the Sea looks out for the health and well-being of its students, principal Julie Aemisegger said.

Aemisegger said it's important for the school to discuss the topic with students, but stressed parents need to follow up with their children.

“We’ve known about cigarettes for hundreds of years, and we’ve known about underage drinking, but this is new, so it’s important educators and parents learn about this,” Aemisegger said. “Parents make the determination when they feel their child is ready to hear about this, but certainly, children are hearing all the advertisements about these things, so parents need to hear it.”