CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Feb. 26, 2019) -- Before the end of the school year, Linda Ferguson, a counselor at Zama Middle High School, wants to tell as many students as possible--in person--about the dangers of vaping. She started in Michael Pope's science class Feb. 21 with a presentation before about 20 students.

Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the addictive ingredient in regular cigarettes, and since human brains do not stop developing until age 25, using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control, Ferguson told the students, based on information from her research slides.

"Nicotine may alter the way your brain functions for the rest of your life," Ferguson said. "Can you imagine? What you do now, at this point in your life, can affect the function of your brain for the rest of your life. That's a big risk to take isn't it?"

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. They come in many shapes and sizes, and can look like pens or USB flash drives, Ferguson said.
Although some think vaping aerosol is harmless, that isn't the case, Ferguson said.

Not only is nicotine a concern, but other substances are as well, such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds; cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to nicotine addiction, other concerns include e-cigarettes as a gateway to regular cigarettes and drugs such as marijuana and others; defective batteries that have caused fires and explosions; and nicotine overdoses, Ferguson said.

Ferguson is not the only one at the school who wants to warn students against the dangers of vaping. Students and administrators are working with the U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs Office to produce a public service announcement about vaping, and school administrators also want to get the word out.

Wayne Carter, principal of Zama Middle High School, said he wants students to stay away from vaping devices, but he has an unequivocal message for parents as well.

"It is illegal in the United States to buy cigarettes under the age of 18," Carter said. "A vaping device falls under the same control measures as controlled cigarettes. If your child is under the age of 18, it is illegal for them to have a vaping device, and as parents, you need to recognize that you are contributing to your child participating in an illegal activity by allowing them to have a vaping device if they are under the age of 18."

It is against school regulations to have a vaping device on campus, at any time, for any reason, at any age, Carter said. The punishment for students caught with a vaping device at school is a 10-day suspension.

It is important to be aware of the possible health consequences of vaping, Carter said.

"Choosing to smoke, vape or inhale or ingest anything that could potentially cause your body harm is a personal choice, and what I would tell any child who goes to this school from the age of 12 to 18, is: Always make good choices," Carter said. "Make the best choice for your health and well-being now and in the future. Just because you don't feel anything happening to you doesn't mean something is not happening to you."

Isabel White, assistant principal, Zama Middle High School, said although the legal age to buy smoking products in the United States is 18, the age is 20 in Japan, and that includes vaping products. So students could get into legal trouble off post if caught vaping.

Parents should also be aware that many vaping devices look like pens or USB flash drives and that students could buy devices through the mail, White said.

"There has been an increase in the number of students who have been experimenting with vaping," White said. "A lot of times parents are not aware that they're dangerous and they're illegal [for those under 18 in the United States and 20 in Japan]. The bottom line is that it is harmful."