CHESHIRE — Callie Fritz, a senior at Cheshire High School, didn’t use the word vaping to describe the use of electronic nicotine products during a forum at Town Hall.
She used the word “JUULing,” a reference to a popular maker of those devices.
Fritz was speaking on a panel that included state Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, state Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, state Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, and other state and local officials.
“As someone who has tried to intervene, we need to focus on helping and not shaming them,” Fritz said during the Thursday night event.
Abrams, who serves as co-chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, referenced reports of suspected vaping-related lung illnesses, which have included some deaths.
Linehan, who co-moderated the forum, said state lawmakers hope to draft new legislation to further regulate electronic nicotine products next year. Recent legislation raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco, including vaping products, to 21 years old.
Abrams and other speakers noted that when electronic nicotine products were first introduced more than a decade ago, they were marketed as devices meant to help adult cigarette smokers quit.
“But I'm not absolutely convinced it is a less harmful product,” said Abrams.
Use has risen rapidly among young people. According to the state’s most recent Youth and Tobacco Use surveys, roughly 14.7% of youth were vaping in 2017. That’s more than double the percentage from two years prior, when 7.2% of youth reported having vaped.
Speakers talked about the various flavors that are offered and felt advertising for the products targeted children. At the same time, the long-term health effects are unknown.
Cheshire High School Principal Mary Gadd said high school-aged students are naturally curious.
“We want to be sure they are curious about things that are healthy rather than things that are harmful,” Gadd said.
Gadd explained that she and other administrators have taken action, including locking several student bathrooms during the school day and installing “vape detection” devices.
Bryte Johnson, director of government relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society’s Connecticut Cancer Action Center, says the rise in use poses a lot of concerns.
“These are largely unregulated products,” Johnson said. “Because of that, you’re seeing an explosion of different flavors.”
Johnson said the different flavors are evidence they are not geared for helping users of traditional cigarettes quit smoking.
“The flavor has nothing to do with cessation,” Johnson said. “If somebody wants to use flavors, it’s as an enticement. It’s a simple truth.”