Sgt. Brant Pewitt

Sgt. Brant Pewitt, who supervises the Williamson County Sheriff Department’s school resource officers, tells the FrankTalks audience Monday about the dangers of vaping.

Concerns by health officials over the recent increase in vaping are both short term and long term as far as the impact the product can have on users.

Or as Dr. Tufik Assad from Williamson Medical Center told an audience at Monday morning’s FrankTalks session, the issue is a double-edged sword.

“There are two health epidemics, in my opinion, regarding vaping,” Assad, a pulmonary and critical care physician, said to those who attended the Franklin Tomorrow event at Franklin Police headquarters. “One is the rising use amongst all people, but particularly with younger people in middle and high schools. I think that’s an epidemic in terms of nicotine addiction and potential lung disease down the road. That’s a longer-term, bigger-picture problem.

“There is a more pressing, immediate health epidemic, and that’s vaping-associated pulmonary disease. People are getting severely ill from vaping.”

According to the latest numbers by the Center for Disease Control, there have been 1,080 lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette, or vaping, products in 48 states and one U.S. territory. There have been 18 deaths confirmed in 15 states. No deaths have been reported in Tennessee, but the state has seen 39 cases, and Assad said he has treated 10 patients with symptoms associated with vape usage.

To bring the issue to light at the FrankTalks discussion, Assad was joined on the panel by Franklin Police Chief Deb Faulkner; Lyndsey Wilhelm and Brittany Laborde, health educators with the Williamson County Health Department; and Sgt. Brant Pewitt, who supervises the Williamson County Sheriff Department’s school resource officers.

“This is a difficult topic to talk about because it greatly impacts our young people,” Faulkner said as she led off the discussion.

She also addressed the broader topic of substance abuse and its dangers, pointing out the fact that Franklin Police has handled 42 overdose calls so far this year, 49 drug investigations and one confirmed death. Police are seeing prescription drugs, marijuana, cocaine, meth and fentanyl laced with heroin.

“We had a fentanyl arrest where the officer who made the arrest had to be decontaminated,” Faulkner said. “That’s extremely serious.”

In addition, Faulkner addressed the issue of mental illness and the “very troubling issue” of suicides. Through September, the FPD has seen 136 incidents of either threats, attempts or actual suicides.

Vaping is becoming quite the troubling issue as well, and Pewitt recommended that parents become aware of the marketing tool used to recruit teens and even pre-teens to continue using.

“They’re pretty clever with all this stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of different products.”

Pewitt pointed out through slides the various devices used, such as those designed to look like Mentos candy, blends resembling Fruity Pebbles cereal and Sour Patch Kids candy, and even an article of clothing called vape wear that makes a vaping device look like a string on a hoody.

“A lot of this is marketed and geared towards children,” Pewitt said.

Wilhelm and Laborde spoke to their roles with the health department for helping the greater community understand the risks and consequences of vaping. They visit with students, speak to civic organizations, professionals, faith leaders and other groups, and generally work to spread the word.

In a survey that was given to students by the Williamson County Anti-Drug Coalition, Wilhelm said results showed that 14 is the average age for beginnings to vaping. Only 9.7% of those surveyed said it was very difficult to access tobacco products, and less than half (44.9%) said tobacco products were a great risk.

“It’s easy for them to get and they really don’t see that great a risk to themselves,” Wilhelm said. “We’re seeing kids as young as 8-10 years old who vaping. Kids are smoking six to eight Juul pods a day, which is equal to six to eight packs of cigarettes.

“It’s a huge problem.”

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