LCHS Parents Schooled on the Risks of Vaping

Tanya Wilson, head of security for La Cañada High School, gave a vaping presentation recently at a PTSA-hosted event at LCHS.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Tanya Wilson, head of security for La Cañada High School, gave a vaping presentation recently at a PTSA-hosted event at LCHS.

With vaping linked recently to 27 pulmonary injuries and at least one death in Los Angeles County, an event at La Cañada High School where officials spoke about dangers associated with the use of e-cigarettes seemed especially timely.
Tanya Wilson, head of security for LCHS, gave a presentation with county Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Matejka about vaping and drugs at the school. She said she believes vaping is on the decline there because kids have read the recent stories about the death and injuries attributed to it.
“Our kids are so smart, and they do the research,” Wilson said after an LCHS PTSA meeting presentation last Thursday.
Wilson told the audience that drug use in general at LCHS was on the decline and that busts made on campus had “decreased significantly.” Matejka, however, later spoke of the use of illicit substances at student gatherings away from school.
Wilson said recent news reports of deaths nationwide from the use of e-cigarettes and vaping in particular have made a local impact. As of last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there have been 33 deaths and 1,479 injuries nationwide due to vaping. wilson said when e-cigarettes became popular, there was a lot of information touting it as safe and a great way to quit tobacco.
“Every article was safe, safe, safe,” she said. “Now if you search vaping, it’s the exact opposite — it’s talking about all of the deaths.”
Wilson said that when she started at LCHS in 1981, there was an area where students could legally smoke and her job was to “babysit those kids,” and she used to find a lot of tobacco and lighters. In more recent times, vaping began about 10 years ago and exploded on the LCHS campus about five years ago, she said.
“At the beginning, what we were seeing is these bigger contraptions,” Wilson said. They would be stored in backpacks with “juice” — mixtures that include nicotine — for vaping. The kids went from larger devices to smaller ones, with the biggest company being Juul, she said. Users can plug the device into a USB drive and vape it and blow the smoke into their shirt or hold it in their lungs for a long period of time.
A youth who vaped on campus a year or two ago passed out and went into convulsions, Wilson said. Newer devices can be disposable, with each the nicotine equivalent of a pack of cigarettes; there are also refillable devices — whose nicotine also is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes — that have a cartridge that ranges from $8 to $10.
Wilson displayed different vapes, ranging from nicotine to marijuana, during the presentation.
“The marijuana ones are almost odorless now,” Wilson said. “It’s really hard to detect.”
She added that a vegetable glycerin to create a vaping device could be purchased from Rite Aid.
“You just push the button and inhale,” Wilson said as a parent asked how one would use a vaping device that was passed around the room. The device had been confiscated at the school.
Wilson said when the vaping devices became smaller in recent years, 7th- and 8th-graders got fed up with other students who would vape in class when teachers turned their backs. To try to catch the vapers, Wilson gave out her phone number to concerned students, who would sometimes leave a description of the person as it happened. Wilson would take offenders to the office for a search to confiscate the smoking device.
Officials later got a wand metal detector, prompting vapers to try — unsuccessfully — to hide the devices in their underwear, she said.
“The good news is our kids are really smart, and now we’re wanding kids and not finding stuff,” Wilson said, referring to an apparent decline in vaping. Youths now call a tip line instead of calling her, she added.
“The people who teach me are your kids,” Wilson said. She said youths on campus report that marijuana use, vaping and alcohol use had been the most popular banned practices, but they were on the decline at school.
Matejka, however, said marijuana, alcohol and cocaine were popular at parties. He suggested parents purchase a drug-testing kit so their kids wouldn’t have to put up with peer pressure to do drugs.
“They can say, ‘Hey, Mom and Dad are testing me,’” Matejka said. He added if kids are known to be doing heavier drugs, parents should watch them take the test and make sure they first wash their hands, because they could be trying to fraudulently pass it.
As for pills, he said Adderall was popular during academic testing. He said the drug is intended to help calm youths with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but if kids don’t have the medical problem they are “sped up” to perform better on tests.
“If your kid suddenly says, ‘I want to take Adderall,’ there is usually a problem,” Matejka said.
Matejka said he checks his own kids’ bedrooms and encouraged parents to monitor their kids.
“Watch their behavior, check their room, talk to them,” Matejka said.
He said he came across an incident recently involving the psychedelic drug known as acid and told the group to send him, Wilson or administrators a message if they hear about it.
“Drugs are everywhere,” Matejka said.
Wilson added that instead of lecturing their kids, parents should ask them for more information about what they’re seeing or hearing on campus.
“Kids love to educate you,” Wilson said. “They love to be the ones that have the knowledge.”
On another subject, Matejka told parents to let their children know that phone apps are not anonymous and that if authorities had reason to suspect a youth of a crime, they could get a court order to obtain anything on their phones, such as nude images or criminal threats.
“Tell them not to do it,” Matejka said.
LCHS Principal Jim Cartnal said this is Red Ribbon Week, with the theme “Choices Matter,” and LCHS and LCHS 7/8 were holding assemblies featuring motivational speaker Nathan Harmon. According to his website, Harmon was the driver in a drinking and driving crash in 2009, and has battled alcohol and drug addictions, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, bulimia and jail.
Parent Mary Blencowe, who has twin daughters in the district, said she felt the presentation was informative.
“I was actually glad to hear that things have leveled out and may be down,” Blencowe said. “Perhaps because of the national focus on some of the negative health impacts or even death of similar aged students.”
Blencowe said she and her daughters occasionally speak about drug-related topics.
“They just don’t like the idea of smoke,” Blencowe said. “They don’t like smoke. I don’t either.”
Parent Lola Dietrich added she had never seen the vaping devices shown in the presentation before.
“This is really an education for the parents,” Dietrich said. “It’s really smart and it’s really scary for the parents.”
She planned to go home and discuss the presentation with her daughter, who is in high school.
“Just open the dialogue,” Dietrich said. “And then they can make a good choice.”

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