Nevada County peer program has teens educating classmates on vaping, e-cigs and potency of today’s pot | TheUnion.com

Nevada County peer program has teens educating classmates on vaping, e-cigs and potency of today’s pot

"Marijuana cures cancer."

"Vaping with flavored e-juice is safe."

"Weed doesn't affect brain development."

These are some of the misconceptions Marlene Mahurin is hearing from Nevada County middle and high schoolers, and she's concerned. To compound matters, often their parents aren't well informed either, as today's teens are exposed to a variety of new drugs that simply didn't exist when their parents were teenagers.

As the Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) coordinator for the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, Mahurin has been given the uphill challenge of educating teens on the physical and mental health effects of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping (inhaling water vapor through a personal vaporizer or electronic cigarette) and the hazards of marijuana use.

But this year, Mahurin and her cadre of on-campus TUPE site coordinators (who are mostly teachers) say they are optimistic about a new tool for disseminating information: peers.

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Not 'just flavoring'

At the end of October, more than 100 middle school "TUPE Peer Educators" gathered at Camp Del Oro for a day-long training on the dangers of smoking and vaping. They also learned about the attributes of a successful peer educator and how big tobacco companies target youth through advertisements. Armed with new information, Mahurin said students went to work setting goals and making plans for their on- campus, anti-tobacco and cannabis message throughout this school year.

Many were shocked by what they learned, she added, particularly in light of the sky-rocketing use of e-cigarettes and vaping.

"Our approach is not to be preachy or fear-based," said Mahurin. "It's just fact-based information for teens, so they can make an educated decision."

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health, e-cigarettes — also known commonly as vape pens, tank systems and e-hookahs — deliver flavoring and nicotine in the form of an aerosol that users breathe into their lungs.

Studies in 2015 and 2016 published by the nonprofit Monitoring the Future project found that "the majority of teens who use e-cigarettes think there is 'just flavoring' in them. However, many e-cigarettes on the market contain both nicotine and flavoring."

Additionally, research found that other harmful ingredients include heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and "cancer causing agents like acrolein."

Researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that some e-cigarettes release formaldehyde, a "probable cancer-causing substance when heated with batteries set at high voltages."

E-juice flavors, often intended to target a younger demographic, can include cherry, cheesecake, cinnamon and cotton candy.

"E-juice can be poisonous — but it smells like Jolly Ranchers," said Mahurin. "Traditional cigarette smoking is down, but vaping and cannabis are going up. We're seeing an increase in advertising and marketing. The tobacco companies are losing money from cigarette sales so they're shifting their focus."

More potent pot

It's also important to note, said Mahurin, that today's marijuana is far more potent than what was on the market a generation ago.

In 2015 the American Chemical Society found that potency levels in cannabis, particularly levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — which produces the feeling of being high — has jumped precipitously.

In 1980s the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that THC levels hovered around 4 percent. As of 2012, confiscated marijuana across the country had an average THC concentration of about 15 percent. Other labs have reported potency as high as 20 or 30 percent.

The more TUPE peer educators learn about these health hazards, the more eager they are to share information with their classmates, said Lisa Kauffman, a TUPE site coordinator at Clear Creek School.

"There is a lot of misinformation about vaping — it's very attractive and trendy," she said. "But these peer educators are a tremendous group of volunteers, they're very professional. They're going to bring in educational activities and games — even a smoker's lung from a cadaver. This is very cool for Nevada County — almost all schools are participating."

"My daughter came home bursting with information about the hazards of vaping and what it does to your lungs," said Carabeth Rowley, whose daughter is a peer educator. "I'm confident that when this comes up around her friends that she'll speak up. This kind of peer education could really put a dent in the number of kids who might otherwise try it."

In an effort to help parents get up to speed on this rapidly growing trend, Mahurin has scheduled a free Family Education Night at 6 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office in Grass Valley. The evening will allow parents of middle and high schoolers to learn more about vaping, e-cigarettes and cannabis use, and the risks involved.

"We just want to help teens navigate adolescence as smoothly as we can — there are so many decisions they are confronted with every day," said Mahurin. "Our goal is to keep communication open about potential problems. I feel like I had a few rough teenage years — any time I can prepare teens and guide them to have a smoother experience, I'm there."

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.

TALK TO YOUR TEEN ABOUT E-CIGARETTES, VAPING AND MARIJUANA

A free family education night for parents of middle and high school students is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 28 at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office, 380 Crown Point Circle in Grass Valley. To register, visit tinyurl.com/yayxxab7. For more informaion, email Marlene Mahurin at Mmahurin@nevco.org.