Different Looks

Vape pens and other devices are more easily concealed by teens because they don’t always look like a cigarette. Some more closely resemble USB drives then even the devices above.

Thought to be safe alternatives to traditional cigarettes, vapes have been linked to 34 deaths and more than 1,600 cases of lung damage or illness across the nation this year, but so far El Campo appears excluded from this epidemic.

El Campo Memorial Hospital has not treated any cases directly linked to vaping, as far as they know, Chief Nursing Officer Frances Lerma said.

THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was detected in most of the samples linked to national cases tested by the Food and Drug Administration. In particular, products obtained from family members, friends or illicit dealers are a major factor in the outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of Oct. 29, one outbreak-related death occurred in Texas. The patient was an older woman living in North Texas, according to the Associated Press.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services linked 165 cases of severe lung disease to vaping, and 13 are being investigated, as of Oct. 29.

Approximately 79 percent of the patients admitted with vaping-related lung illnesses were under age 35, but patient ages ranged from 13 to 75.

Vaping skyrocketed in popularity globally since 2011, increasing by about 34 million users by 2018, according to BBC News.

One in four U.S. high school students reported using e-cigarettes within the last month.

Although he was unable to pinpoint a specific number of students who vape, School Resource Officer Corporal Jeff Pfeil said the practice is popular among El Campo High School students. 

This year, El Campo Middle School reported three to four vaping cases and El Campo High School reported six, according to Cpl. Mark Biskup. As far as he knows, ECPD patrol officers have not confiscated any THC vapes in El Campo this year, Biskup said.

Many parents are not familiar with vapes, making them easier for underage users to hide, according to ECHS Principal Demetric Wells.

“Vaping is something that we’re focusing a lot of efforts on,” Wells said. “It’s something that they feel like it’s a lot easier to fly under the radar. A lot of the vapes look like USB ports.”

Younger populations are drawn to vaping while cigarette use among the same age groups has declined in recent years. In 2019, more than 27 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes while almost 6 percent smoked traditional cigarettes, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services National Youth Tobacco Survey.

“The overwhelming majority of youth e-cigarette users cited the use of popular fruit and menthol or mint flavors,” the Food and Drug Administration said in a press release.

Vaping was addressed during this year’s ECHS Red Ribbon Week, Wells said. 

Red Ribbon Week, an annual national anti-drug campaign dedicated to education and awareness, was held in El Campo schools last month.

While minors are being discouraged from using e-cigarettes and cigarettes alike, the CDC advises adults using e-cigarettes not to switch back to traditional cigarettes.

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