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E-cigarette, tobacco, cannabis ‘litter’ studied at Bay-area high schools

(Reuters Health) – High schools in the San Francisco Bay area are being littered with disposable pods and other trash from e-cigarettes, cannabis products, cigarettes and cigarillos, according to a new study.

In addition to confirming wide use of these products by youth, the litter represents an environmental threat, the authors of the “garbology” study write in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“People use these products, and our society and environment suffer the burden of their impacts,” said Jeremiah Mock of the University of California, San Francisco, who led the study.

Waste from e-cigarette products can contain plastics, nicotine, heavy metals, other chemical toxins and hazardous lithium-ion batteries, Mock told Reuters Health by email. In addition, cigarette waste contains plastic cellulose acetate, nicotine, formaldehyde, lead and cadmium, and cannabis waste contains plastics, metals, electronic components and batteries.

“Also, importantly, documenting these waste items at high schools gives us a window into products that students are using,” he said.

Mock and his colleague Yogi Hendlin analyzed the waste at 12 public high schools in the Bay area that enroll a total of more than 18,000 students in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Francisco counties.

Between July 2018 and April 2019, they scanned the student parking lots and exterior school perimeter areas once at each school to collect all e-cigarette, tobacco and cannabis waste found on the ground.

Overall, the research duo collected 893 waste items, including 172 e-cigarette products. Nearly all were Juul or Juul-compatible pods and pod caps, they note in their report.

In addition, almost all Juul items were found at schools with middle- and upper-income students, the authors point out. Among the 74 color-coded flavor caps, 73 were from flavored pods other than tobacco. About two-thirds were from mint-flavored and other menthol-flavored pods, including cool mint, cool cucumber and classic menthol.

At four high schools with predominantly lower-income African American and Latinx students, eight e-cigarette items were collected, in addition to 71 cigarillo plastic wrappers and mouthpieces. About 94% were from flavored products.

Across all schools, 620 cigarette butts were collected, and 42% were menthol. In addition, 14 cannabis items were found, including vaporizer pens, cartridges and packaging from pineapple- and lemon-flavored cannabis oil cartridges.

“I am concerned about finding cannabis product waste at a wide range of schools, especially the high-potency oil concentrate cartridges since use of these products has been associated with a large number of cases in the recent outbreak of vaping-related lung injury,” Mock said.

The research team is now conducting a one-year follow-up at the same high schools, and Mock is leading a three-year study of tobacco, e-cigarette and cannabis waste in parks and beaches in California, Japan and Thailand.

“Promotion of tobacco and vaping products often targets youth through use of social media platforms that are disproportionately popular among teens, and these products are often sold in close proximity to schools,” said Anna Kostygina of the University of Chicago in Illinois.

“Branded promotion of cigarette products has been largely prohibited on traditional media, such as print, billboards, and television, but so far there is little regulation of branded content for vape products or cigars and cigarillos,” she told Reuters Health by email. “Advertising on digital media is pervasive, and teens see it.”

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, online October 11, 2019.

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