From the Head of School...
March 2019 Remarks
I share these thoughts as an educator, parent, and public health advocate . . . and I have chosen to tackle this topic now in hopes that our families will find time during spring break to similarly raise the topic with your children.
When I was a first-year graduate student enrolled in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in the fall of 1999, I submitted a research paper entitled: “Nicotine Addiction as a Pediatric Disease.” The goal of the paper was to track the genesis of the phrase captured in the paper’s title. The countless hours I spent digging through Centers for Disease Control/US Food & Drug Administration documents, legal testimony, and primary research articles painted a clear and unsettling picture: this was an industry committed to (stealthily) promoting tobacco use among teenagers in order to secure and sustain a critical mass of lifelong adult smokers. In fact, the tobacco industry had been manipulating nicotine levels to ensure consumer addiction. As quoted in my paper:
“It is easy to think of smoking as an adult problem. It is adults who die from tobacco related diseases...But this is a dangerously short-sighted view. It is as if we entered the theater in the third act—after the plot has been set in motion, after the stage has been set. For while the epidemic of disease and death from smoking is played out in adulthood, it begins in childhood. If there is one fact that I need to stress today, it is that a person who hasn’t started smoking by age 19 is unlikely to ever become a smoker. Nicotine addiction begins when most tobacco users are teenagers, so let’s call this what it really is: a pediatric disease.” Dr. David A. Kessler, Commissioner of Food and Drugs, 1995
I had taught in boarding school for five years before taking a sabbatical for graduate school, and my experience as a faculty member in the mid-1990s was that students “hooked” on nicotine largely steered away from cigarettes while on campus—far too easy to be noticed/smelled—and opted for smokeless tobacco (“dip”). Even the latter, however, was tough to miss, and we did our best to educate our students and introduce them to tobacco/nicotine cessation programs as needed.
Thankfully, and due in large part to public health initiatives, regulations, and education campaigns, cigarette use among teens declined dramatically as the year 2000 came and went:
30 Day Prevalence of Daily Use of Cigarettes, by Grade, 1976-2015
Source: Johnston, L.D., O’Malley, P.M., Miech, R.A., Bachman, J.G., & Schulenberg, J.E. (2016).Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2015: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
We were close to beating it! I was convinced that the next generation of U.S. adolescents would essentially be tobacco and nicotine free, and that the wrath of illness associated with smoking would cease.
And then along came JUUL (https://truthinitiative.org/news/what-is-juul). E-cigarettes entered the scene as a “safer” alternative to smoking, and certainly for adults addicted to cigarettes, there is some argument to accessing e-cigarettes as one component of a cessation process. For healthy teenagers, however, these sleek, seductive, easy-to-hide devices are no more than a delivery system for nicotine, with cartridge flavors ranging from mango to mint. Indeed, “a single JUUL cartridge is roughly equal to a pack of cigarettes, or 200 cigarette puffs.” Moreover, it appears that the decision to vape has cut across all “sectors” of teens; in other words, no longer is use tied to one’s specific group of friends/peers, one’s interests or activities, or even one’s personal/family values. Many adolescents think it is a harmless, modestly-risky (in terms of getting in trouble), social endeavor to join. And many adults are just beginning to realize the trouble this teenage generation has stumbled upon.
Recent statistics of U.S. teenage JUUL/e-cigarette/vape use are alarming:
We would be naive to believe that our beloved hilltop campus is immune to what is happening on a national level, and it is our responsibility as Canterbury faculty to know the facts and to engage in direct and honest conversation with our students. Anecdotally, we know that the majority of teenagers believe that vaping is “simply” the inhalation of flavored water vapor, and whether they are unaware of the nicotine content itself or of the power and speed of its addictive nature, it does not play into their decision to vape. They do not appreciate how quickly addiction can happen. And they have no idea how difficult it will be to break the habit.
The e-cigarette industry has now accomplished what the tobacco industry did decades ago: secure a (new) critical mass of lifelong nicotine addicts.
My final sentences in that 1999 paper were as follows: “So spread the word: there is a pediatric disease running rampant through our country. Its effects are likely to wreak lifelong havoc, but if you don’t get it by the time you’re eighteen, you probably never will. Be vigilant...protect your children...and teach them how to protect themselves.”
Now twenty years later, history has repeated itself. While the long-term health impacts of vaping are unknown, there is no question that the cartridge ingredients—beyond nicotine—have negative effects on the brain, lungs and heart. The adults on the Canterbury hilltop are in ongoing conversation about empowering our students with information, encouraging them to seek help for themselves or their friends, and ensuring they understand both our disciplinary consequences as well as our response to requests for help. Our students/children must trust that we are in partnership with them to prevent, combat, or break their connection with vaping. It is time for us to help them take ownership.
Rachel E. Stone
Head of School
A quick internet search will reveal countless articles,
statistics and updates; here is a cross-section:
Head of School Blog