The following was included in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's recent School Nurse Update. Every other week I create a newsletter and include a section entilted "Practice Points."
During the past month, I have had the opportunity to listen to two excellent webinars on the topic of vaping and e-cigarettes. I have included the links to the recorded webinars at the end of these Practice Points. I highly recommend taking a couple of hours to listen to them!
What struck me as I listened is just how acute and how severe this public health crisis is. Yes, the use of e-cigarettes and the exponential increase in the number of teens using these products is a public health crisis. One, that school nurses are particularly well-positioned to address and intervene. That was my second aha moment. Here we have a disease (nicotine addiction), threatening the youth of our nation, and the healthcare providers who are in the best position to influence the health habits of those at risk are school nurses. School nurses need to seize this opportunity!
Shockingly, I learned that in the past two years the use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) by high school students has increased by 135%. One out of four teens have used ENDS. My third aha moment - ENDS are what e-cigarettes are – they deliver nicotine a highly addictive substance. Call it “vaping’ or “juuling” or any other verb, but what occurs is the delivery of nicotine via aerosol. We know, nicotine is particularly detrimental to the developing brain.
What scientists and public health officials are now discovering are the effects of the other chemicals and oils in these ENDS products. Oils and flavorings approved for oral consumption have untoward effects on lung tissue when inhaled. We are also discovering that similar to tobacco cigarette use, there are health consequences caused by “second-hand” exposure to the aerosolization of these oils and carcinogenic chemicals.
After years of decreasing the number of Americans who use tobacco and nicotine products and preventing American youth from a lifetime of addiction, we are now seeing this trend reverse. When I read articles and listen to webinars such as the ones I mentioned, I note the opportunities to influence and prevent youth from starting to use these products and correct their misconceptions ( harmless, do not contain nicotine, better for you than tobacco products, only water vapor, are not addictive). Using what public health officials have learned over 40 years of tobacco cessation efforts, there are definitive educational strategies we can use, policies that can be implemented, and evidenced-based cessation programs available for ENDS.
School nurses are well-positioned to do prevention education, elicit parent support, hang posters, influence school policies, encourage non-punitive measures for violations of athletic codes and refer students to cessation programs. If you do any sort of tobacco prevention presentations to elementary, middle, or high school students you simply must include information on ENDS products and the health consequences of vaping. School nurses have unique relationships with students. Leverage those relationships to influence the health choices of your students.
Truly consider that public health officials and clinical healthcare providers do not have the reach and potential of school nurses. I think about Lillian Wald the founder of both public health nursing and school nursing in the United States. In the early 1900’s infections and communicable diseases prevented students from attending school and reaching their potential. Lillian Wald took action. Today products marketed to youth that affect brain development, create addiction and have other yet unknown health consequences prevent our youth from reaching their full potential. What action will you take?
Allergy & Asthma Network’s “Vaping What We need to Know”
American Lung Association’s “E-cigarettes & School Wellness Policies: Resources for Schools”