Imagine your 10-year-old little sister, brother or cousin vaping.
As strange or hard as it is to picture a child still in elementary school vaping or smoking, that’s the reality of what we face today.
“Our cessation program, for years, has included middle and high school students,” said Elizabeth Guerrero, program coordinator for the Department of Public Health and Social Services Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. “Last year, though, we had calls from two elementary schools.
“It does start early. And that’s the unfortunate thing,” she added.
Guam law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes or from purchasing these items.
Public Health is working now with the Guam Department of Education to add elementary schools to their Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted every two years. The survey asks students in middle and high school a series of questions on risky behaviors or habits that could endanger their lives. Questions in the survey range from whether they’ve ever tried smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes to whether they regularly use seat belts in the car or have ever sampled alcoholic beverages.
Guerrero said, based on that information, the agencies are able to create prevention programs that will better reach out to and educate students at schools and the community at large on these potentially life-endangering activities by youth. On the other side of that, they would use the information to create programs to help those who have tried and could potentially become addicted to these habits.
Right now, Guerrero said as calls come in about students of whatever age caught smoking or vaping, or caught with cigarettes — electronic or otherwise — the students would receive counseling on the dangers of smoking.
"In lieu of suspension for the student, we work with the school and provide counseling," Guerrero said. She said counselors talk to students about the dangers of smoking or vaping - particularly for young people whose bodies are still developing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 2,051 cases of vaping-related injuries in the U.S. and 39 deaths in 24 states as of Nov. 5. Medical professionals have not identified the cause of these cases, but all patients were reported to have used e-cigarettes and other vaping products, health officials state.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2017 shows the number of high school students on Guam who are smoking has decreased. However, it is still 50% higher than the U.S. average.
“The good news is we saw a drop in the high school vaping percentages,” Guerrero said. About 32% of high school students surveyed in 2015 reported vaping. In 2017, the percentage dropped to 26%.
For high school students who are associated with any tobacco use, those in 11th grade ranked the highest with 38.6% and students in 12th grade come in close with 37.3%.
“Unfortunately, our middle school numbers didn’t change from 2015 to 2017,” Guerrero said. “In 2017 the number of students vaping remained the same at about 23%.”
Those in eighth grade reported to have the highest percentage, 41.5%, of students who have used any kind of tobacco.
Know the symptoms
DPHSS Director Linda DeNorcey said there has been one local case linked to vaping in 2017.
A male patient was admitted to GRMC and was diagnosed with diffuse alveolar hemorrhage, a life-threatening condition caused by bleeding in the lungs.
Officials encourage youth to help spread awareness by learning the symptoms of the lung injuries linked to vaping, which can include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, abdominal pain, fever, and weight loss.
A lung infection does not appear to be the cause of symptoms. Since the cause of this outbreak is not known, the only way to assure that you are not at risk is to avoid the use of all e-cigarettes and vaping products.
Vaping is defined as the use of e-cigarettes and it can affect one’s health when consistently used. E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid, which can contain nicotine, THC, and CBD oils, to produce an aerosol that users inhale.