Vaping ‘epidemic’ prompts Burbank Unified forum

Rising use of tobacco and electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, among students nationally and in Burbank was at the center of a health forum at Burbank High School on Thursday evening, where close to 100 people participated.
(Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

Rising use of tobacco and electronic cigarettes, also known as vaping, among students nationally and in Burbank was at the center of a health forum at Burbank High School on Thursday evening, attended by close to 100 people.

Stacy Cashman, Burbank Unified’s director of student services, hosted the event, which featured a 25-minute seminar led by Ashley Salazar of Breathe LA, a nonprofit that says it’s dedicated to promoting clean air and healthy lungs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, produce an aerosol by heating a liquid “that usually contains nicotine — the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products — flavorings and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol.”

E-cigarettes can be used for tobacco, marijuana and other products.

“This is a growing trend and my personal prediction is that it’s only going to get a little worse in the few upcoming years if we don’t increase our advocacy and education,” Salazar said.

Her presentation included statistics from the Food and Drug Administration, stating about that 4.9 million middle and high school students nationally use some form of tobacco.

Of that group, about 3.6 million use e-cigarettes, translating into one in 14 middle-school students and 25% of high-school students.

What makes vaping different than regular cigarettes, according to Salazar, is the use of flavorings, which include tastes such as green apple, cotton candy and whipped cream.

Salazar said those flavors are primarily intended to hook younger users.

“We know that over the last couple of decades youth use of marijuana products and tobacco has declined,” Cashman said. “However, over the last year or two, with the epidemic of vaping and devices, it’s on the rise with youth.”

The district’s two resource officers, Dustin Rodriguez and Laura Vargas, demonstrated several types of e-cigarettes, including some resembling iPods, flash drives, pens and chargers.

“Many teachers are unaware of what these products look like because they actually look like school products and school supplies,” Salazar said.

One way to combat vaping is through legislation, said Salazar, who pointed to cities like Beverly Hills, which banned tobacco sales, and San Francisco, which prohibited e-cigarettes.

Los Angeles County is considering a ban on flavored tobacco, while Burbank City Atty. Amy Albano said the city would soon begin a process leading to the prohibition of some vaping.

“On Sept. 24, we’re bringing back an ordinance to the City Council to consider for introduction; that’s how it works,” Albano said. “And then, at a second meeting, to adopt [it], and it will ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city of Burbank.”

Cashman issued a report in July highlighting the rise in suspensions and disciplinary actions involving district students.

Last school year, there were 145 disciplinary incidents or suspensions, up from 129 the year prior and 69 during the 2016-17 school year.

Burroughs High School had the most offenses, with 53 incidents, while Burbank High was next with 45 disciplinary actions and Monterey High was third with 15.

One parent who did not identify herself said her son attended Luther Burbank Middle School and, “he couldn’t use the bathroom” because students were vaping in there.

Narineh Barzegar, Burbank High School’s assistant principal in charge of discipline, said that, despite the rising numbers of vaping disciplinary actions, enforcement remains difficult.

“Even when I was a teacher and even now, an administrator, I really didn’t know what these products looked like,” Barzegar said. “It was very eye-opening to me, seeing all these little gadgets and pieces.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.