South Valley students getting reality check on dangers of vaping

TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fifth graders at Buena Vista Elementary School in Tulare recently got to look at vaping devices confiscated from Tulare County students.

Kendra Hodson says, "I think teenagers who do it don't know what they're doing to themselves," after getting a look at one of the devices.

Kendra and her classmates are asking questions and getting answers about vaping in this life-skills class taught by CHOICES program specialist KC Pearce.

RELATED: Children First: Vaping Crisis

These students are around ten years old, but Pearce explains why it's so important to talk to kids early, "The younger you introduce these into your system, the more it affects your brain development as well."

Educators in the South Valley say they have confiscated vaping devices from students in the fifth grade.

As he speaks to the students, Pearce explains, "Even the term vaping is misleading in itself because you're technically not inhaling a vapor. You're inhaling an aerosol chemical and there's a big difference in how that can lead to the health effects later on in life."

Students learned vapes could contain nicotine, a highly addictive chemical that could affect their hearts and lungs.

"The main thing I learned was how much nicotine was in one tiny little vape device," says Carlos Dias.

"If you smoke like two of those pod things a day, that's 82 cigarettes," says Kendra.

Our Children First sponsor, Tulare County Office of Education, shared results of a recent survey of 11,000 students in Tulare County.

Eighty-three percent of teenagers believe vapes are safer than cigarettes and pose no harm.

Fourty-six percent of seventh through 12th graders admitted vaping.

In many cases, the vaping devices are hidden in plain sight. Some look like USB flash drives; others are stashed in permanent markers.

Pearce says the devices fool even teachers, "It'll be a dare, or a challenge almost, for them to see if they can get the teacher to charge their Juul device for them during school. It's kind of scary some of the types of devices that are out there."

Tulare County Office of Education is also educating teachers and families about the vaping problem, and Tulare County Sheriff's Deputies are seizing devices at schools.

Tim Hire, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, says there is only so much they can do, "The arm that we can't really affect is the internet. Parents need to be working with their children and educating them and watching which websites they're going to, and (what they) watch there, the amount of time, and what they're doing on the electronic devices. We can't stop the electronic sales of this type of material."

A quick search of YouTube turns up videos showing how easy it is to vape in a classroom and not get caught.

"I'm watching YouTube on how to make lipstick look like fruit in class, and these people are making vape pens look like Sharpies," says Eva Gomes.

More than 1,500 vaping flavors are on the market.

After seeing one flavor called Pokéjuice (featuring drawings that look like the Pokémon animated characters), young Kendra had questions.

"The question that's in my head the most is what in the world is Pokéjuice?!? Do they like, blend a Pokemon card, and blend it in there somewhere? I don't know what a Poka Juice is!"

Some vaping liquids come in packages that look like juice boxes; others have flavors named after cereal, candy and soda flavors. KC Pearce says, even if that's not what the intended effect, these flavors and packages are appealing to children and teens.

"It is not just attracting a market for smokers who have been addicted to cigarettes. It is attracting a whole new young generation who
have never picked up a cigarette a day in their life."

Vapor doesn't mean safer.

One chemical that has been found in some e-cigarette liquids is diacetyl. It's linked to a disease known as popcorn lung.

Carlos Dias asks, "Why would people do this? Because it's so bad for you."

Now that they have more information on what vaping can do to their bodies, these fifth graders are determined now more than ever to avoid it.

"I'm sure if you're a fifth-grader, you wouldn't want to be like, 'Oh Mom, I'm vaping now,' because no parent would want to receive that," says Eva Gomes.

"If I saw someone smoking one of those things, I (would) go right up and smack it out of their hands, and then run for my life," says Kendra Hodson.
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