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Pontiac — Oakland County Executive David Coulter stood Monday alongside members of the county health department, Oakland Schools and the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities to announce efforts aimed at educating youth on the dangers of vaping.

Coulter, along with Oakland County Health Officer Leigh-Anne Stafford, Oakland Schools Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson, and Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities President & CEO Julie Brenner, discussed the collaboration at a news conference at the North Oakland Health Center in Pontiac.

“This partnership is focused on providing education, advocating for changes in public policy and creating a healthier environment,” said Coulter. “By working together, we can move the needle on how many teens are endangering themselves by using e-cigarettes.”

Coulter held up a small container of a vaping product sold at dozens of retail outlets across Oakland County.

“Most of us don’t know what this is but the kids sure do,” Coulter said. “As usual, they are way ahead of the rest of us and we better educate ourselves.”

Vaping originally started out as providing a nicotine alternative to cigarettes. But it has morphed into a commercial venture, with producers marketing products with innocent-sounding names like "Whipped Cream," "Fruit Monster," "Peanut Butter and Jelly Monster" and "Sad Boy."

 Officials at the news conference applauded Michigan’s ban on flavored vaping products, ordered last month by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The ban has prompted two lawsuits against the state.

Coulter and others said regulators have been slow to address the growing use of electronic cigarettes by teenagers.

In 2017, 44.5% of Michigan high school students reported using e-cigarettes, compared with 31.3% who reported smoking traditional tobacco products. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine — the addictive drug in regular cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

“Some e-cigarette products can contain as much nicotine as 20 regular cigarettes,” Stafford said, describing vaping as “a serious public health issue that is putting the health of young people at risk.”

Officials stressed the use of both tobacco and vaping products — even if not used with marijuana-related THC — are far from harmless.

Nicotine exposure can impact learning, memory, attention and increase the risk for future drug addiction. In addition to nicotine, the aerosol that is inhaled and exhaled from e-cigarettes contains harmful substances such as heavy metals that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Oct. 8, there have been 1,300 vaping-associated lung injury cases reported nationally, with 26 related deaths confirmed in 21 states. Michigan had its first vaping-related death reported on Oct. 2 and has 30 confirmed or probable vaping-related lung injury cases statewide.

“We haven’t identified any deaths related to it yet in this country but I suspect it is only a matter of time,” said Oakland County Medical Examiner Ljubisa Dragovic.

Among the reported Michigan cases, 13% are among people under 18 and 80% are between 18 and 34.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of vaping cases concerning students — some as young as in the fourth grade,” Cook-Robinson said.

Cook-Robinson said programs in schools, with help from organizations like the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, are attempting to educate students who “believe vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes.”

“Parents have to be looking for signs at home, like changes in students’ behavior and whether they are exhibiting any signs of vaping use, such as shortness of breath,” she said.

Among advice to students, parents and the public:

-- Do not use vaping products containing THC, the ingredient in marijuana that causes a smoker's "high."

--Refrain from using any e-cigarette product.

--Immediately visit your health care provider if you have a history of vaping and experience symptoms of lung injury such as shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting.

--Vaping products should never be used by women who are pregnant.

--Never buy any vaping products off the street or modify products purchased from a retailer.

--Youth, young adults and women who are pregnant should never use vaping products.

To request vaping-related resources or education, contact the following organizations:

--Oakland County Health Division: Call 248-858-1280, email health@oakgov.com or visit www.oakgov.com/substanceabuse.

--Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities: Call 248-221-7101, email info@achcmi.org, or visit www.achcmi.org.

--Oakland Schools: Call 248-209-2000 or visit oakland.k12.mi.us.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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