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Vaping is on the rise among Riverhead teens, but many parents don’t even know what it is, say counselors and kids alike

Stock photo: Fotolia

The topic of vaping was front and center yesterday at a community event hosted by the CAP Community Coalition in Riverhead.

Parents of teens and other older adults often are unfamiliar with vaping — inhaling the aerosol produced by an electronic device, CAP executive director Felicia Scocozza told the crowd gathered for the coalition’s annual “meet and greet” yesterday.

The prevailing lack of knowledge exists even though vaping is increasingly popular among teens. CAP social workers and school officials are very concerned because the substances used in e-cigarettes usually contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug.

The most popular materials used in vaping are manufactured by big tobacco companies, which market them to youth with names and flavors — such as bubble gum and cotton candy — attractive to kids. Vaping by youth has gone up more than 900 percent since 2008, Miloski said.

The result is growing nicotine addiction numbers among youth, according to the CAP presenters.

Roughly half of Riverhead High School seniors reported having tried vaping in anonymous surveys conducted by CAP. Twenty percent of those surveyed said they did not consider e-cigarettes harmful.

Besides nicotine addiction, the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about e-cigarettes,” Scocozza said. “But preliminary research shows damage to lungs, brain and heart. There are also reports of nicotine poisoning from skin contact with the substances.”

One Juul cartridge, a small cartridge inserted into the vaping device, provides about 200 puffs, which is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes, according to the manufacturer of Juul, a popular vaping device.

Some devices can also be used with marijuana oils. Twelve percent of Riverhead High School seniors surveyed reported using marijuana oil with a vape pen.

The e-cigarette, also known as a vape pen, is a battery powered electronic device designed to deliver the aerosol vapor. The vapor is often mistaken for water vapor, but it actually consists of fine particles, which may contain various toxic chemicals.

There are more than 500 brands of e-liquids and more than 7,000 flavors, student presenters told the audience.

Vaping devices and cartridges are widely available in stores— including gas station convenience stores and stationery stores — and online. Under state law, they cannot be sold to anyone under age 21.

“We have partnered with Riverhead police on compliance checks around town and found 100 percent compliance,” CAP community prevention specialist Kelly Miloski said.

Underage users buy them from others or buy them online, she said.

A new vape store has opened in a Jamesport shopping center. Photo: Denise Civiletti

There’s a lot of concern about “vape stores” opening up in town, especially a new one in the Jamesport shopping center, Miloski said.

CAP believes the town should look at its zoning code to restrict the locations of new vape stores, she said.

Keri Stromski of Jamesport, mother of three and a kindergarten teacher at Aquebogue Elementary School, said she lives near the new Vape Nation store in Jamesport and is not happy it opened there.

“I’ve heard stories about kids vaping in bathrooms, on buses, even in classrooms,” Stromski said.

“They market these products to children. I would like to see the town adopt an ordinance restricting this,” she said. “We’re way behind the curve on this and we have to get in front of it. This is a gateway drug.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who was also in the audience, said the town will look at how other municipalities have dealt with these issues.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.