Vape Bash and Mid-States 2015: A Missed Opportunity

I pulled into the Pheasant Run Resort on Friday and found a parking spot in front of the Mega Center and looked up at the center’s marquee:

On the right, it declared “ACA Mid-States Conference 2015” and on the left, “Vape Bash 2015”.   Vape Bash?  Oh no, I thought!  It’s an electronic cigarette convention. How NCA! (Not Camp Appropriate). 

(Note: if you’re not sure what an eCigarette is, it’s typically a battery-powered device that turns liquid nicotine into vapor to smoke)

I made my way to the room I had been assigned for my presentation.  Since it was in the mid-70s outside, I decided it would be best if we moved the session outdoors.  So, there I was, with about 50 camp leaders on the courtyard, presenting information about the transition to leadership roles at camp with a large plume of sweet-smelling “vape” smoke above my head. 

You could spot a Vape Bash participant vs. a Mid-States participant a mile away.  Most bash participants were carrying complicated vape equipment and also wearing black shirts emblazoned their company’s logo.  The camp conference people?  Also distinct.  Khakis, hoodies and Chacos galore toting bags that declared “Camp Changed My Life”.  Not once did I see an exchange between these two groups of people inhabiting the conference center.  I write about this not as a complaint about our co-habitants being somewhat NCA. I write about it because when I got home, I realized that our lack of interactions with the Vape Bash participants were a huge lost opportunity.

First of all, judging by the very fancy vehicles these guests had, there is some significant money in the vape industry!  Certainly some of them have children.  Some simple interactions between this group and ours could have been a great opportunity to get the word out about our camp programs.  Alas.

Perhaps more pertinently, however, we need to be aware as camp leaders that e-cigs and related products are becoming more and more of a reality in our camps and for our campers in general.  Thinking back to my experiences last summer, there were a couple of times that we dealt with situations where electronic cigarettes had made their way on to camp.  Existing in so many forms, sometimes it was hard to tell what was what, and what did what, and what was NCA and what was not NCA.

We all know the message that “cigarettes are bad”, but what about electronic cigarettes?  Some people say that e-cigarettes can be less harmful than traditional cigarettes (basically saying vapor is better than tobacco smoke), but does that mean they are safe? 

Smoking anything on camp is generally taboo, but “Vape Bash” inspired me to get educated and ask the big question: What do responsible camp directors need to know about electronic cigarettes?  Let’s get educated, learn what these things look like, and make an informed decision about our camper, staff and guest policy when it comes to e-cigarettes.  Judging by the magnitude of the conference, these things are here to stay!

Here is what you need to know:

1. Electronic cigarette use is sharply on the rise

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey done by the CDC, e-cigarette use TRIPLED from 2013-2014!  More than 13 percent of surveyed high school students use e-cigarettes, and almost 4 percent of middle school students use them!  

What does this mean for camp professionals?  The decision whether or not to use e-cigarettes is a reality for our kids.  It also means that as many as 1 in 10 of our campers currently is an e-cigarette user.

2. The liquid nicotine that fills e-cigarettes is highly poisonous!

According to the CDC, if an individual is poisoned by nicotine in regular cigarettes, it is typically because he or she ate cigarettes (gross…).  However, poisoning by e-cigarettes can occur by ingestion, inhalation or even absorption through the skin.  In 2010, poison control would get 1 call per month regarding e-cigarette liquids.  Now, they get an average of 215 per month!

The other difficulty with these products is they often come in candy-colored and flavored forms.  (Just think back to the sweet plumes of smoke outside of the conference center over the weekend; it kind of smelled like cotton candy!).  No wonder kids want to taste or touch it.

What does this mean for camp professionals? This could be an excellent point of reasoning for camp directors who would like to ban e-cigarettes entirely from their camp property.  If a child stumbles across a e-cigarette and smells the sweet device, all they would have to do is touch it to potentially be at risk to be poisoned.

3. Just like cigarettes, e-cigarettes are addictive and can get kids hooked on nicotine.

The jury is still out on the exact health effects of e-cigarette use. Most medical studies agree that they are not as harmful as cigarettes, but remind us that does not mean they are good for you.  Nicotine can have adverse effects on growth and development, and is still an addictive substance.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Tom Freiden, the director of the CDC says, “I’ve treated so many adults who are desperate -- desperate -- to get off tobacco. They all started as kids,” Frieden said. “I see the industry getting another generation of our kids addicted. To me, as a physician, when 1.78 million of our high school kids have tried an e-cigarette and a lot of them are using them regularly … that’s like watching someone harm hundreds of thousands of children.”

The CDC began an advertisement campaign this year about the dangers of e-cigarette use.

The CDC began an advertisement campaign this year about the dangers of e-cigarette use.

4. It’s hard to identify e-cigarettes!

This is where touring the Vape Bash exhibit hall could have been really handy! First, they come in many shapes and sizes.  Then they have all sorts of different names (vape, vapor cigarette, e-cig, hookah this or that, etc.).  Some of them even look like toys or writing utensils.  As a camp director, it is prudent to familiarize yourself with the different types of e-cigarettes so you don’t confound a vapor device with a Lisa Frank pen.

The New York Times has a helpful multi-part series regarding e-cigarettes, and it included this illustration of the different sorts (compared with a traditional cigarette).

Here’s what you need to do

1. Vape products present us with another“grey area” for our camp’s policies.  Decide what is the best policy for your camp and update your written documents.  Think what you would do if any of the following situations presented themselves:

  1. Camper is found using an e-cigarette in a bathroom stall.  What is the consequence?

  2. Staff member has e-cigarettes in her backpack which she stores in the cabin.  What is proper disciplinary action?

  3. Parent during an Adventure Guides retreat actively using e-cigarette during arts & crafts. How do you approach the situation? 

2. Have some conversations with staff members, parents and campers to see how much of a trend e-cigarettes are in your community.  Act accordingly.

3. Continue to educate yourself!

So, Vape Bash and Mid-States, thank you.  You were an enlightening and juxtaposed combination.  

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