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‘Surprised at how young they are starting to vape’

E-cigarettes are becoming popular among junior high students, so schools are educating them on health risks

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This is a photo illustration of a vape module. Vaping and e-cigarettes have become more common among teenagers. Local schools and OSF are teaming up to educate junior high students about the health risks associated with vaping.

At what age are kids starting to use e-cigarettes? Some users may be as young as 11.

“We’re surprised at how young they are starting to vape,” said Jennifer Kelsey, an advanced practice registered nurse. “As early as fifth and sixth graders have tried it.”

Kelsey works at OSF Medical Group in Ottawa and has been giving presentations at local junior high schools on the harmful health effects of e-cigarettes. She has noticed an increased use of e-cigarettes by her pediatric patients.

“The word spread fast that vaping seems to be a problem in local schools,” Kelsey said. “I just wanted to take my message and spread it to the kids as well as my patients.”

An e-cigarette is an electronic nicotine device that can look like a pen, computer memory stick, car key fob, or an inhaler.

“E-cigarettes use inhaled vapor from the e-juice, which has been heated by a battery powered coil, and that’s where they get that term vaping,” Kelsey said. “The e-juice is flavored, which usually contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals. The juice comes in very tempting flavors like bubblegum and mango that are just more appealing to our youth.”

Kelsey spoke last week to sixth and seventh graders at Washington Junior High in Oglesby. Principal Merritt Burns said there were several incidents involving e-cigarettes at the beginning of the school year, so the district has been teaching students about the devices.

“We didn’t think that it would filter down to the junior high level as quickly as it has,” Burns said. “It’s the number one banned product right now that kids are exposed to, more so than alcohol or drugs, even regular tobacco,” Burns said.

Kelsey said young people think e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes because they taste good and don’t have a bad smell. However, both contain nicotine, a highly addictive drug.

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Jennifer Kelsey, a pediatrics nurse at OSF Medical Group in Ottawa, answers students’ questions at Oglesby Washington Junior High. She gaves a presentation about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals.

“E-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine into the blood, just like regular cigarettes, by smokers inhaling it into the lungs,” Kelsey said. “With e-cigarettes, the nicotine goes into your mouth, to your lungs, to your bloodstream and then it goes directly to your brain. It affects your whole body.”

She said one e-cigarette refill pod has the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.

“With vaping, you’re not sure how much nicotine you’re actually getting, so you could actually be taking in more nicotine by vaping than you could by cigarettes,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey also will give presentations at Trinity Catholic Academy in La Salle. Principal Deb Myers said she has not caught any students with e-cigarettes at school, but she wants to be proactive.

“One of my main reasons for bringing in a program is to be able to give students as much information as possible to hopefully prevent students from using the products,” Myers said. “It does seem like it’s an increasing trend with junior high students, pre-teens and teenagers.”

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A JVSURF and a Juul are shown. These are two different types of e-cigarettes, which have become popular with teens. Local schools are trying to educate students about the health risks associated with vaping. One Juul refill pod has the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. 

Michael Olson, Putnam County Junior High principal, said the school has been educating students about e-cigarettes in health class as a preventative measure. The school also signed up for the OSF presentation to reinforce students’ knowledge about the dangers of vaping.

“We just want them to be fully aware that this isn’t just a cool fad,” Olson said. “There are some very harmful side effects, short term and long-term, with using these.”

Burns said a lot of students he talked to at the beginning of the school year did not even realize that e-cigarettes contained banned substances.

“Early on, kids were just not educated enough that they were doing it in a public manner,” Burns said. “Some of them were doing it on their walks to school.”

Burns said there has been a lot of education over the years to inform people cigarettes are bad for our health, but not as much information has been relayed to the public about the negative health effects of e-cigarettes.

“There are no extensive studies that have happened to really showcase the dangers of vaping,” Burns said. “When that knowledge isn’t there for students or adults, that’s where we kind of have to step in and begin that education process.”

Brynn Twait can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or perureporter@newstrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @NT_Peru.

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Brynn Twait works as a reporter covering the City of Peru. She can be reached at (815) 220-6932 or perureporter@newstrib.com.

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