Dangerous addiction: Teens and vaping

More than a quarter of high school students in the U.S. use e-cigarettes. Teen vaping has become an epidemic.

16 News Now is taking a closer look at the problem in our own community and the steps being taken to protect our teens.

"It's very common," Michiana teenager Jacelia Dokes said. "Us teenagers try to fit in so they do that type of stuff to make them look good for other people."

Dokes says she sees students vaping in her Michiana classroom almost every day.

16 News Now's own Lindsay Stone sat down with Dokes to ask about her experience in a Michiana classroom and the percentage of students who have tried vaping or are currently vaping.

"I'd say the whole class," Dokes said.

Products like Juul, dab pens or carts are easily confused as flash-drives, making them difficult for teachers to spot. One of the biggest worries with vaping is how it could influence teens to experiment with other drugs.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study calling e-cigarettes a "gateway drug" for nicotine addiction. The results also found nicotine is a stepping stone to marijuana and cocaine use.

"Anytime we're introducing an addictive chemical into our system, it does set us up for another addiction," said Latorya Green, policy coordinator at Smoke Free Saint Joe. "When we talk about drug addiction, it's about chasing the next high. That's why we consider it a gateway drug to other addictive substances that are out there."

So, what can be done? Historically, taxation has been an effective tool in reducing the number of people who smoke.

In the Hoosier state, there is no tax on e-cigarette products, only cigarettes, but the Indiana Chamber said creating significant vaping and cigarette taxes is a top priority on the 2020 agenda.

In Michigan, there's no current tax on e-cigarettes or related products but there is one on tobacco cigarettes.

Due to a lack of taxes on e-cigarette products, more people are choosing to vape.

The cost of one pack of 20 cigarettes is about $7 with the excise tax. A 15-milliliter cartridge of vape juice, the equivalent of 7 1/2 packs of cigarettes, costs $13.

Another tactic to fight the vaping epidemic is talking to teens about the dangers of vaping and providing resources to help. Local schools such as Mishawaka High School are now adding support for students who have discipline infractions for bringing illegal substances to school. Educational classes on drug use are now offered during in-school suspensions as an alternative.

Smoke Free Saint Joe offers a variety of resources to help. To learn more, check out their website.

The Indiana Tobacco Quitline is a free, phone-based counseling service helping Hoosier smokers quit. That number is 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

To start a conversation with your teen about vaping, check out this article from Drug-Free.org or these tips from the surgeon general.