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Epping Teens Weigh In On Lawmakers' Plans To Tackle Vaping

Sarah Gibson for NHPR


Students and administrators say e-cigarettes are becoming more popular and harder to control in New Hampshire.

E-cigarettes - which look like flash drives or pens - produce a flavored vapor with nicotine. Manufacturers say they help adults quit smoking, but with flavors like cotton candy and lagging regulations on products, many say vaping has become an epidemic among teens.

Speaking with Senator Jeanne Shaheen at Epping High School on Tuesday, freshman Dylan Comeau suggested the original intent of vaping had changed.

"Now instead of just stopping smoking it's: 'Let's see how much we can make off this before we get caught and shut down,'" he said.

"You gotta wonder whether there's a greed factor, huh?" responded Shaheen, who introduced a federal bill this year that would require manufacturers to help fund prevention efforts.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of middle and high schoolers vaping has nearly doubled in the last year.

"It is an enforcement nightmare," said Epping Middle School Principal Coby Troidl. "It is not neccessarily detectable. We can’t smell it."

Epping junior Faith Williamson says students vape under desks, on the bus, and in the bathrooms, where it's become the new norm.

"I’ll walk in and find one of my friends vaping in the bathroom. They’ll be like 'Oh, I forgot you don’t like this stuff.' You’re like that kid," she said.

Williamson and others in the Granite Youth Alliance, a drug prevention group in Rockingham County, told Senator Shaheen that access was so easy that many of their peers are already addicted and will need support to kick the habit. 

7th grader Colin Hallinan says he worries about the scant research on the effects of long-term use.

"It's going to be a long time until we start seeing those really really bad symptoms and we don’t even know what those are going to evolve into yet," he told Shaheen.

Albee Budnitz, a retired pulmonologist with Breathe NH, told students that despite the lack of data on symptoms, the brain science behind addiction was clear: vaping as a teen changes how the brain interacts with and craves certain chemicals in the future.

 "Your brain isn't developed until your mid-20's," he said. "And those brain changes now last forever."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that e-cigarettes produce a vapor 'high in nicotine.' This has been changed to 'with nicotine.'

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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