AYER – “There’s an age of sale, not an age of use.”
Those were the words of wisdom Cory Mashburn of the Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth offered to a sparse crowd of school staff on Monday night in the Ayer-Shirley Regional High School auditorium.
Mashburn gave a presentation titled, “Vaping and Our Youth,” focusing on how e-cigarettes are deliberately marketed to young people and how school officials can address the dangers of using them. Mashburn gave the same speech to the students of the high school earlier in the day.
School Resource Officer Jen Bigelow said at the presentation that there was concern of vape use with students in grades six through eight. She recalled an incident last year at the high school where a student concealed his vape use with a sweatshirt and a recent incident involving a group of girls telling school staff that they believed another group of girls were using e-cigarettes in the girl’s bathroom. The issue, though, is finding evidence of students who are using the products.
“What we see, which is so hard to police, is the ability to use these products and have no one know about it,” she added. “Unfortunately, if they are surrounded by some of the high school girls, you’d never notice. It could smell like some kind of perfume or lotion. They’re doing it so easily, whether they’re in the bathroom or in a hallway. Unless you see somebody actually put something to their face or see a small amount of vapor, it’s very challenging to do something about it.”
Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation in November that will limit the sale of flavored nicotine vaping products, including menthol, to smoking bars that are licensed. The legislation will also impose a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigarettes when it goes into effect on June 1, 2020.
Mashburn highlighted what he called the “marketing scam” that e-cigarette companies do to target young people in order to sell their products, researching what kids between the ages of 10-20 drink, eat, wear and do. Companies take that research and come up with vapes that attract young people through sweet flavors or e-cigarettes with images from popular movies like Star Wars or The Avengers.
He noted the appearance of Juuls were similar to that of a flash drive, making them more eye-grabbing to young people. He then showed pictures of Suorin e-cigarettes, which have the appearance of the ever-popular smartphone. While the purchasers are attracted to the look of vapes, they seem to ignore the dangerous chemicals the products contain.
“That’s what companies want, they want it to look like an everyday item that they’re just going to use,” Mashburn added. “An e-cigarette is a gas going inside your body. When a gas goes inside your body, it’s chemicals and it goes through all your organs and damaging each one over time.”
Mashburn advised school staffers to make sure to provide a clear message to students about being concerned for their own health when they’re using or near users of e-cigarettes.
“They were scared that they were going to lose their friends unless they speak up,” he explained. “I understand where they’re coming from, but the issue is that you have to be worried about what you do.”