ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Up to 80% of students in many Erie County school districts are vaping. That's just one of the shocking figures highlighted by experts asked to speak before the Erie County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, Thursday morning.
Those experts included:
- Richard O'Connor, Ph.D., Professor of Oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Director of the Tobacco Research Laboratory
- Jessica Hutchings, Program Director for the Face2Face Program at Kids Escaping Drugs
- Lindsey Amico, WNY Reality Check, Youth coordinator for Tobacco-Free Erie Niagara
- Joseph DePlato, Town of Elma School Resource Officer, Iroquois Central School District
It was a nearly two hour discussion about the current youth vaping epidemic, and the conversation ended with the county legislators accepting a resolution.
The resolution has a long list of facts about vaping and the use of e-cigarettes by kids and teens. It resolved to do four things: express legislators' concerns over youth vaping and the potential for users to add illicit drugs to the nicotine liquid, call on the FDA to do more about the epidemic, and notify federal, state and local agencies about their concerns.
It was a bit of a disappointment for some of the speakers who were hoping that the legislature would make bolder moves; such as resolving to enact a county law to make e-cigarette products harder for kids and teens to get a hold of, such as increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years-old.
Erie Co Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams did remark that "It is too easy" for youth to get a hold of e-cigarette products. She asked the panel to weigh in on benefits of raising the legal age to 21.
Members of the panel said the majority of e-cigarette products circulating through schools are being purchased by high school students who are 18 and older.
"What the older students are doing is they're going up to the reservations and they're buying," said DePlato, referring to conversations he had with students in the Iroquois Central School District, "then they're bringing them back and they're selling them at a profit to the younger kids. And when I say younger kids, you're looking at 7th, 8th graders...6th graders. They're selling them to the middle school kids."
DePlato added that law enforcement needs laws on the books to enforce the illegal sale of vape products, so that there are clear consequences for teens and adults who resell these products to minors.
But the panelists said parents are also to blame for putting these products in the hands of kids. They say parents are dangerously uninformed, and like many middle and high school students believe e-cigarettes are "safe" since they're marketed as a "safer" alternative to combustible cigarettes.
"I've had a secretary at a local school share with me that a fifth grader had to be disciplined for vaping in the bathroom," said Amico. "And her mother responded with, 'Yes, I bought it for her, but I told her not to bring it to school.'"
But research shows vaporizers, liquid, and pods designed and manufactured by leading e-cigarette company Juul deliver high levels of nicotine which can be dangerous for the developing brain.
"What we're hearing from young people, who are choosing to vape," said Hutchings, "...is that they are going through those pods at very very rapid rates. Some of them are going through multiples of those pods, sometimes in a day. And so, the amount of nicotine that they're ingesting is tremendously, tremendously concerning."
Despite all that was said today, Erie County Legislator John Bruso says this is just the start of the conversation.
The legislature plans to hear from more experts, like school superintendents and school resource officers, before deciding on legislation.
Bruso admits Erie County may not see a vaping law until the end of 2019.
In the more near future, there will be a informational meeting for parents on March 6, 6:30 p.m. at the Lancaster Opera House.