Several decades ago, if police pulled someone over in his or her car for running a red light and the person was smoking marijuana, police would know about it immediately.

“It stinks,” Darien police Sgt. James Palmieri said. “I’m going to know in two seconds that you have marijuana in that car.”

However, vaping is a whole different story. It’s much harder to detect when someone is vaping, Palmieri said at a recent talk at the Darien Library called Vaping, E-Cigs & Juuling: What Parents and Teens Need to Know.

The talk, which was free, was presented by Stamford Health and the Darien Health Department. The 90-minute program included a question and answer session.

“Take away that smell, and the items that were used for marijuana lying around the car. There is no smoke coming out. We’re not seeing the pipes with the residue. We have no legal authority to search anybody in the car,” Palmieri said.

He added that vapes usually resemble a USB drive in size, have no odor, and produce no smoke. Students can vape during class and teachers wouldn’t notice.

“It’s the detection of this that makes it difficult for us,” he said.

From a police perspective, the biggest challenge, according to Palmieri, is the loss of “the super obvious stuff to these little things that could lie around your house and really be hidden anywhere.”

“You literally have to catch a kid red-handed,” Palmieri said. “There’s really no other way around it.”

Vaping facts and figures

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) reported Nov. 1 that 38 Connecticut residents became ill with lung injuries possibly related to using e-cigarettes or vaping.

In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Oct. 31, almost 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung injury had been reported from 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory. The CDC also reported 37 deaths had been confirmed in 24 states, from vaping.

Darien Director of Health David Knauf said that to date, there have been two vaping-related hospitalizations of Darien residents.

He said the latest national findings suggest that products containing THC, a psycho-active component derived from marijuana, are playing a major role in the outbreak.

In Connecticut, the age that one can buy e-cigarettes has just been raised from 18 to 21.

Paul Sachs, director of pulmonary medicine at Stamford Health, said while the number of cigarette smokers has gone down, the number of people who smoke e-cigarettes [or vape] has increased.

From 2017 to 2018, among high school students, vaping went up 78 percent; and among middle school students, it rose by 50 percent.

The Juul is “by far the most popular e-cigarette out there,” he said.

Dangers of vaping

Vapes and e-cigarettes have about 40 chemicals. Some of them are known carcinogens, according to Sachs.

The short-term dangers are coughing. In addition, it can aggravate asthma and increase airway hypersensitivity.

Some of the vapes contain a cancer-causing molecule.

Vaping can also cause a scaring in the lung, and a very serious lung disease called popcorn lung.

At Stamford Hospital, young people are coming in with Evali, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury, he said.

There are oils like the vitamin E oil or coconut oil that are not safe to inhale.

“They are finding this oil in the THC pod or in the nicotine pod,” Sachs said. “Inhaling an oil is very inflammatory to the lung. When you inhale an oil, you get a lipoid pneumonia. The symptoms for this are shortness of breathe, cough, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”

In addition, Sachs said vaping can be a gateway to conventional cigarettes.

“There is a four-time likelihood that students would smoke had they used e-cigarettes in the past six months,” he said.

There’s no long-term safety data on smoking e-cigarettes or vapes, according to Sachs.

Detecting vaping

Signs of vaping include a sweet scent, increased thirst, and desire for more flavor on food.

Additional symptoms include nosebleeds, worsening acne, decreased use, and irritability.

Some schools are putting in vape detectors in the bathrooms that senses the vape. Another option for schools is to remove bathroom doors.

Targeting youth, false claims

E-cigarettes are being marketed directly to young people, according to Sachs. They come in flavors such as cotton candy, bubble gum, gummy bear, and vanilla wafers.

Flavors are the main reason teens start vaping, he said. “The tobacco companies are very hesitant to give up on the flavors.”

He further said some companies are claiming that e-cigarettes are nicotine-free. But when the products were tested, many of them had nicotine, Sachs said.

He called nicotine “one of the most addictive substances on the planet.”

To quit vaping, text “Quit” to 202-804-9884 or text ditchjuul to 887-09 forhelp. For more information on vaping, visit truthinitiative.org or call 1-800-CDC-info.

Watch the full vaping talk on Darien TV79.

Watch the Vaping Awareness Public Service Announcement at vimeo.com/375494460.

sfox@darientimes.com