Teens navigating a maze when it comes to vaping myths — but this exhibit tries to clear the air

An interactive maze is trying to get teens thinking about the consequences of vaping, and at its first N.L. stop at a Mount Pearl high school Wednesday morning, administrators said they're battling an epidemic of teen uptake.

People just think it makes them cool, I guess. - Jacob Baker

The maze itself will attempt to help teens "discover the hidden consequences of vaping," based on Health Canada's recommendations, which warn that children and are "especially susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine, including addiction."

The drug may cause dependence at lower levels in children, the health authority says, and nicotine can alter the development of teenage brains, affecting memory, concentration and impulse control, according to the federal health agency.

But that doesn't seem to stop many of 17-year-old Jacob Baker's peers.

Andrew Sampson/CBC

"There was a bunch of activities basically to tell you not to vape, just showed you all the harmful things it can do to your body," he said after he emerged from the presentation.

"I mean, it's not really good. Hurts your lungs. Puts a lot of chemicals in your body. You shouldn't be at it."

As a Grade 12 student, Baker said a large chunk of the students around him regularly vape, or have at least tried vaping.

"At least 75 per cent. Definitely. A lot of people vape now," Baker said.

"People just think it makes them cool, I guess."

Mark Cumby/CBC

Baker said he's never tried it, and doesn't intend to, since he's an athlete who plays hockey and baseball. But he's not sure how effective the presentation will be in deterring people who already vape.

"Some, but not all. I mean, people do it now, they're told all the time, but they're gonna do it anyway," he said.

"But it's probably gonna help a lot of people stop, as well, because it shows you how bad it is."

Vaping in classes, bathrooms

Administrators described a similar frustration at cracking down on students picking up the habit, regularly catching groups of them crowded into hazy bathrooms, passing around a single device.

"They seem to be open to doing it just about anywhere. That would include on the bus, in schools, mostly in bathroom facilities," said vice principal Sheldon Marsh. "And they seem to think that it's okay."

Mark Cumby/CBC

The problem spans all grades, he said, propelled by the idea that vaping is a harmless way to pass the time.

"There's that perception that this is somehow safe. There's still a lot of people who look at vaping as a positive, healthy action to take," said principal Michelle Clemens.

She pointed out that using vaping for nicotine replacement therapy,  — considered a harm reduction tool by Health Canada and a way to reduce exposure to carcinogens — isn't the reason most kids are picking it up.

"Twenty per cent of Newfoundlanders smoke," she said.

"There's far more now vaping. So if it was substituting for nicotine, we wouldn't see as much of it. But unfortunately there's a lot of new adopters, because of the perception that vaping apple-flavoured vape juice is totally okay."

Andrew Sampson/CBC

Marsh said that some numbers suggest as many as 50 per cent of young people are experimenting with nicotine products. He dishes out three-day suspensions whenever kids are caught vaping on school grounds, but it hasn't done much to clear the fog from high school hallways.

Students will blow the vapour into backpacks to avoid detection, he said, or simply hold their breath until it dissipates. 

"We come down hard on them," Clemens said, in an attempt to stop the trend.

"We need to take away the social acceptance ... they're getting duped into buying a product that they're being told is cool and is healthy to do. And I just feel rotten for them."

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