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Presentation warns students not to start vaping

South Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Isaac Kurtz speaks to students at Mitchell Middle School about the dangers and effects of vaping during a presentation on Friday in the school's gym. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Officers from the South Dakota Highway Patrol visited Mitchell Middle School on Friday to warn students of the hazards of vaping.

The presentation, held in the middle school's gym, gave an overview of the harm the substances in vape pens such as Juuls and e-cigarettes can do before the user reaches adulthood, as well as the physical and social effects they can cause down the line.

"Juuling is highly addictive," said Sgt. Isaac Kurtz, who delivered the majority of the 45-minute presentation. "The problem we are running into is, it's more addictive, especially for the young crowd, because of the nicotine content and the effects it has on the developing brain."

Kurtz said the presentation was first given at some point in either late December or early January for a trooper's daughter and her class. Since then, it's been given to several other schools in eastern South Dakota.

The presentation was given three times at the middle school on Friday, once for students in each grade.

Kurtz said the tobacco industry today is marketing e-cigarettes and vape pens to appeal to younger people and that while they may be the lesser of two evils compared to lower-tech tobacco products, even products that claim to be nicotine-free can include the addictive substance, with some containing up to 20 times more nicotine than a cigarette.

"The earlier they can get you hooked on something, the more money they're going to make on it," Kurtz said in reference to the tobacco industry. "They don't care if it can cause cancer or harm your brain. They want your money."

According to the presentation, the juice used in vape pens contains numerous chemicals and can cause memory and emotional issues in a brain that's not fully developed.

Trooper David Koch showed students photos of people who had been burned, blinded, had their teeth knocked out or been otherwise injured when a vape pen exploded near them. He said that even if those products are used as intended, they could cause irreparable injury far beyond what cigarettes can do.

The officers warned that using vape pens to ingest THC can cause additional problems because in addition to exposing the user to the same hazards as other vaping products, it can get them arrested. They encouraged the students to resist peer pressure and make sure they're getting their information on the safety of a product from reputable sources.

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