Students get lesson on vaping

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

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Tim Shoemaker held a white vape pen in his left hand, waving it around as he spoke, animated, into the microphone in his right. He could have easily been mistaken for a preacher giving a sermon on the dangers of nicotine. 

Shoemaker spoke to the entire Chambers County middle and high school student body on Monday. The Langdale Auditorium, where the first two presentations were held, was packed with WF Burns middle schoolers, visibly excited to be outside of school during school hours. Shoemaker took music requests while the kids filed in. 

Shoemaker started the vape awareness presentation by throwing a large foam microphone to the kids and asking deceptively hard questions like “What is a drug?” The atmosphere switched to that of a game show, with kids barely able to stay in their seats, wanting to catch the foam square.

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In between the audience participation, Shoemaker would resume the gospel of drug and nicotine prevention. Shoemaker, a retired police sergeant, has led talks like this across the country. He will be giving a similar presentation on Tuesday to parents, older siblings, and community members at Auburn University’s Student Activities Auditorium at 6 p.m. CT.

The presentation discussed research and data, all compelling. However, perhaps the most effective and unique section of the presentation was a history of the tobacco and nicotine industry. Shoemaker went through a timeline, explaining when the industry found out nicotine was addictive and the chemicals in cigarettes cause cancer, and how the companies lied about it. 

Each time the generation targeted came to realize these companies lied about the effects of nicotine, the companies would come out with a new “healthier” version of the products, Shoemaker said. From filtered cigarettes to vapes, the tobacco and nicotine companies have pushed false information to get young consumers to buy their products.

The vape and e-cigarettes have been especially effective. In the late 1990s, Shoemaker said the number of high school seniors who used nicotine was down to 10%. According to the 2020 assessment by the Alabama Department of Public Health, 54.4% of high schoolers have tried using a vape or similar device. 

“A person who puts nicotine into their body can be addicted in as little as two days by the time you finish one commercial serving of nicotine,” Shoemaker said. “The way they come up with a dose to put in a single disposable vape is not what’s efficient or economical, it is what is addictive.”

He encouraged the students to look up the research and data. At the same time, he cautioned them to not take research at face value. Shoemaker pulled up a study by Duke University’s Center for Smoking Cessation (CSC) saying that vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes. He saod that the CSC was started and majority funded by Philip Morris USA, the largest tobacco producer in the U.S.

His talk centers around nicotine primarily, but the vape pen he holds on to throughout the talk demonstrates the prevalence of the device in the lives of his audience.

Shoemaker went on to say that vaping is just as, if not more harmful, than smoking cigarettes. He showed a video of a semi-liquid substance that is turned into aerosol in vapes, however once inhaled into the lungs, turns back to the goo-like substance. 

He shows examples of old advertisements with doctors smoking and recommending brands of cigarettes to patients. The students laughed at this, but he reminded them that this marketing still happens, and it targets them. Vape companies use flavors and colors to market their products to kids. Shoemaker tells the story of a toddler who saw a cartridge with a strawberry on it, thought it was candy, and drank the liquid. He died instantly. 

“Nicotine is a poison. Put it on a patch, eat it in a gum, it is a poison, it always will be … There is no version of nicotine that is healthy, there was no version of nicotine that will not ultimately kill you,” Shoemaker said.  

After Shoemaker finished his presentation, David Owen, Assistant Superintendent of Chambers County Schools thanked him. Owens held up two wooden boxes with holes in the top, which WF Burns will keep in their front office that day. The boxes are vape disposal bins, with no questions asked of the students who dispose of them.