Today's The Redwood Voice is written by Lydia Anderson, 16, a student at Castle Rock and College of the Redwoods.
A bright, colorful shop called "High Tide Vapes" recently opened on Northcrest Drive in Crescent City. Owners David and Susan Gearhart transplanted their business from Puyallup, Wash., to Crescent City to be part of what they consider an emerging market in northern California: e-cigarettes or "vapes."
What are the benefits of using vapes instead of cigarettes? Vape manufacturers claim that vapes don't contain the harmful tar or carbon monoxide that cigarettes do. And while they contain nicotine, users can control their dose.
They are marketed as helpful in quitting smoking. One of the hardest parts about quitting is breaking habits, such as the "hand to mouth" motion that smokers are so accustomed to. Vaping provides the user with this same motion, while allowing the user to periodically dial down the nicotine until they break the habit. Shop owner David Gearhart says that his job "is to get rid of cigarettes."
One of the reasons the Gearharts sell vapes is their personal success with them. Gearheart, who appears healthy and spry, claims that he was a smoker for 41 years and couldn't walk around the block without becoming winded. He says he has been vaping for more than a month now and feels a lot better. His wife, Susan, said she started at a nicotine level of 24 mg. She's now at 12 mg and says she's on her way to 0 mg. She said she no longer craves cigarettes - she mostly craves the flavor of vapes.
But the Federal Drug Administration is more skeptical about the benefits of e-cigarettes. There are yet to be any long-term studies about their safety. Though short-term studies show no side effects from secondhand smoke, it's not clear if these studies will hold up, or if any other kinds of harmful toxins are present and released by e-cigarettes.
The FDA website states that it "received voluntary reports of adverse events involving e-cigarettes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation (and) seizures." Susan Gerheart herself reported that she and her son, who also vapes, have gotten blisters on their mouth from vaping too much. Other users have reported loss of feeling on their tongue.
The FDA is also concerned about the addictive properties of vapes and the potential for abuse. It doesn't want the public to perceive them as a "safer alternative" to cigarettes.
David Gearhart admitted, "Vaping is not good for you," and doesn't suggest that anyone try it unless he or she already has an addiction to nicotine.
I recently interviewed three Del Norte teens who vape.
A 17-year-old told me vaping "is a lot of fun because it's not that bad." He and his friends recalled a recent occasion when one of their little brothers saw them using vapes and asked to try it. They let him do it becausethey figured he would "like the candy flavor." He was 7 years old.
The idea that vapes are being marketed to kids is a serious concern for critics. Flavors, which include gummy bear and chocolate, appeal to younger crowds.
The teens I talked to were vaping with a flavor called "Sweet Tart." It smelled downright yummy, even to a bystander. We were indoors during the interview, and despite the appealing flavor, I must confess that I began to feel nauseous from the vapor.
Another concern with vapes is that the user can choose to dial up instead of dial down. Vape cartridges can have more milligrams of nicotine than a cigarette. By dialing up, users can actually consume more nicotine than is possible with traditional cigarettes.
This was a problem for another teen, 17 years old. He said that he used to smoke, and vaping was helping him break his addiction. But he was using one of the higher doses, 24 mg. A normal cigarette is about 18 mg. He didn't realize it, but as he was "trying to quit" he was actually upping his nicotine use.
Another serious concern about vaping is that it's fairly easy to vape in public without anyone noticing. This is part of its appeal, as people can get away with vaping on airplanes, in offices and in schools.
The three teens I talked to vape during class without getting caught. A 16-year-old male said teachers probably mistake the sweet odor released from vaping for someone's perfume.
They boys were especially proud of the "smoke tricks" they can do with vapes. One of them said he can blow vapor into a plastic cup and then drip out the liquid onto his desk. He then snorts the remaining liquid.
Even though the FDA has not taken action to create a minimum age requirement for buying vapes, the Gerhearts at High Tide Vapes are adamant that they don't sell to minors. However, no law prevents retailers from selling to kids.
And there is no zoning ordinance restricting e-cigarette sales, either. High Tide Vapes is across the intersection from Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, a K-12 school, and a short walk from the Seventh-day Adventist school, Del Norte High School and Bess Maxwell and Mary Peacock elementary schools.
The Redwood Voice is a group of youth journalists in Del Norte County and adjacent tribal lands who report on stories that might otherwise remain untold, overlooked, or disregarded. Their aim is to illuminate diverse points of view and challenge misconceptions about youth, the community, and the world around us.
The Redwood Voice's journalists are a group of youth, 14andndash;20 years old, consisting of students from Crescent Elk Middle School, Del Norte High School, Castle Rock Charter School, and College of the Redwoods.
It is funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative with the California Endowment, with support from the Del Norte County Unified School District.
The goal of developing the Redwood Voice is to amplify the voices of the youth in Del Norte County and Adjacent Tribal Lands as well as take steps in building youth empowerment.