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Colorado School Counselor Resources

By Ann Halcromb and Brett W. Fedor | March 2019

The Bait & Hook of E-Cigarettes
Writing Effective Letters of Recommendation

The Bait & Hook of E-Cigarettes

By Ann Halcromb
Mango, blueberry, watermelon, and strawberry. Sounds like a list of ingredients for a healthy fruit smoothie? No, these are some of the flavors attracting kids to using e-cigarettes (the bait). Most kids don’t realize that instead of inhaling flavorful, harmless water vapor, they are inhaling nicotine (the hook); heavy metals such as nickel, lead and tin; and chemicals such as diacetyl, a flavoring agent that can cause a serious lung disease.
E-cigarettes are sometimes called e-cigs, vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that usually contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. E-cigarette devices can also be used to deliver marijuana and other drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

An increasingly popular e-cigarette device is called JUUL. It has a sleek design, shaped like a USB flash drive. All JUUL e-cigarettes have a high level of nicotine. According to the manufacturer, a single JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. News outlets and social media sites report widespread use of JUUL by students in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that more than 3 million young people are now using e-cigarettes and are at risk for nicotine addiction, creating a whole new generation of nicotine consumers – big business for Big Tobacco.

Colorado leads the nation in youth use of vapor products (e-cigarettes), as reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Results from the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey show that one in four Colorado teens report that they vape.
Nationally, student use of e-cigarettes is on the rise. According to the Food and Drug Administration, e-cigarette usage jumped 78 percent in 2018 among U.S. high school kids and 48 percent among middle schoolers. School leaders have experienced issues with vaping on campus during academic hours. Students are using e-cigarettes in restrooms, classrooms and on the bus, and are sharing devices with their peers. This social use encourages non-users to try JUUL, and enables students who are too young to purchase these products, or who could not otherwise afford them, to access them through peers.
The long-term side effects of vaping have not yet been determined, but there are plenty of risks according to the Surgeon General’s Report on E-cigarette Use Among Youth & Young Adults:
  • The nicotine in e-cigarettes disrupts the development of brain circuits that control attention and learning.
  • The liquid for e-cigarettes can contain levels of nicotine high enough to cause nicotine poisoning if ingested or absorbed through the skin.
  • Chemicals that flavor e-cigarettes are harmful when inhaled. One, diacetyl, has been linked to a serious and permanent lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans (“popcorn lung”).
  • E-cigarette batteries have been known to explode and cause burns and other injuries.
  • The heating element in e-cigarettes can cause burns.

Parents and educators can work together to help prevent and reduce the use of e-cigarettes by young people. Action steps for parents from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment include talking to their children about the risks of e-cigarette use, expressing firm expectations that their children remain tobacco-free, and setting a positive example by being tobacco-free. Educators can promote their school’s tobacco-free policy to students, parents and staff and consistently enforce it; use in-school alternatives to suspension such as Second Chance for youth who violate the policy; and encourage quitting among students and staff (Visit Smokefree Teen or the Colorado QuitLine, 1-800- QUIT NOW, for clients age 12 and older). Learn more about what schools can do to address this issue in this recent letter from CDPHE to Colorado schools.
Numerous online resources provide facts – here are a few to get you started:
  • Center for Disease Control
  • These YouTube videos can be shared with students, as part of an educational lesson on the dangers of JUULing. The young man that created “JUULers Against JUULs,” Jack Waxman, did so in an effort to raise awareness of the e-cigarette epidemic that his best friends were drawn into (Jack never was). Jack made this video last year, when he was a senior in high school. He is currently in his first year of college, at Cornell University, still as passionate as ever about his cause. “What Are the Potential Dangers of JUULing?” (a report from Good Morning America).  

Writing Effective Letters of Recommendation

By Brett W. Fedor, M.S., Poudre School District
One of the tasks of high school counselors is to generate effective letters of recommendation for college-bound seniors.  Although many educators are honored to accept such a request, counselors can have upwards of 90 graduating students on their assigned caseloads. The art and science of writing effectively becomes a skill honed on the job and it can become an arduous task during the college admissions season of hard deadlines.  Based on a case study in collaboration with Regis University, the average freshman application is viewed in entirety in approximately 240 seconds. But with tips and insight from experienced educators and college admissions officers, letter of recommendation writing can become an incredibly rewarding task for school counselors.
With post-secondary admissions departments beginning to take a more holistic approach to evaluating applications, recommendation letters may be the determining factor in an admissions decision. Suggested strategies are preparatory research, using formal letterhead, and focusing on the student’s unique characteristics, contextual information, community impact and contributions. Ethical considerations are also crucial.
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