PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — When Bay County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Conway Reeder was in school, cigarettes were ‘in.’
“The trendy thing to do was smoke,” said Reeder. “Not for everyone but there was a part of the population that enjoyed smoking, sneaking around and smoking.”
Now, decades later, he’s back in school as a Resource Deputy at Surfside Middle in Panama City Beach; smoking cigarettes is at the lowest rate in middle and high schools in the sunshine state as it’s ever been.
“A good job was done in, you know, making people aware of cigarette smoking and the harms of it,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the problem has disappeared, however. It’s back in a different form.
“I do see vaping starting to replace it some,” said Reeder.
Vaping devices and electronic cigarettes, which often have the same addictive qualities and harmful chemicals as regular cigarettes, are on the rise in middle and high schools.
“The consequences of the vaping are in some cases worse than smoking,” said Reeder.
As of mid-October, Florida has seen almost 70 vaping-related illnesses, many of them related to e-cigarettes being obtained by informal sources off the streets.
For students under the age of 18, that is often times the only way to get those devices.
Without knowing exactly what they’re inhaling, it could be dangerous.
“These kids are at an age of experimentation,” said Mike Ramsey, a teacher at Surfside Middle and the faculty advisor for the school’s S.W.A.T club (Students Working Against Tobacco). “When they share something that they don’t know what is in that juul, it could literally be any chemical.”
So, despite the danger, why are teens still using e-cigs?
Some think it’s because of the fruit flavors they offer, others think it’s the marketing, or a combination of both. Either way, many health professionals agree that the end-result is not safe as long-term health effects of vaping are still not known.
“Initially when vaping came around it was an alternative to smoking, which was, they knew smoking was bad so it was an alternative to doing something bad, so they saw it as safe,” said Reeder. “Now we’re learning that it’s not as safe as it was initially presented as being.”
He said the kids need to be the ones to change the culture, through influencing their peers.
“When their peers are saying it’s not cool, it’s not trendy, that’s the best way for them to know and to hear it from people they respect, their peers,” said Reeder.
Those Surfside students are working against tobacco by educating their friends and getting them to participate in a school poster contest.
“I was impressed that they took they took some initiative and the creativity,” said Reeder. “Like with smoking, once they can create that image that it’s not cool and it’s not trendy, then maybe we can stop kids from doing it.”