School students hooked on to hookah pens

Nagpur: Schools across the city are witnessing a rise in instances of students using ‘hookah pen’, which is generically known as e-cigarettes and available easily on both online and offline stores.
The filler liquid which goes into the pen-shaped hookah is made up of various chemicals that act as flavouring agents, anti freeze and aerosols that help create the vapour.

Last week, a city principal was shocked to see one of her students hiding a hookah pen inside his bag. “It is apparently a fad among schoolchildren now. They are flaunting it openly among their friends with the false perception that it makes them appear cool,” she told TOI.

A similar incident had occurred a couple of years ago at a very popular CBSE school where some students were using the hookah pen in the washroom. After a fellow student informed one of the teachers, a search was carried out in the classroom and a hookah pen was recovered. TOI spoke to many principals and all of them agreed that hookah pens were gaining notoriety with some accepting that they had caught students with the smoking device.

One principal said, “Once I asked my teacher to check students’ bags for mobile phones and instead we found this smoking device. At first glance, it looks just like a fancy pen but it can be used for dangerous things.”

Another principal, said, “It’s an ‘in thing’, something that peer pressure forces you to be a part of. And if someone refuses then it is seen as a sign of weakness.”

Many students fall for this thinking that hookah pens are completely safe as it has a non-nicotine version as well. But even if nicotine is not present, health experts in both India and abroad agree that it cannot be classified as ‘safe’ unless there is proper research done on it using scientific methodology.

Adolescent counsellor and senior medical practitioner Dr Rajiv Mohta said the hookah pens can be considered ‘gateway to drugs’. “When students between the age of 12 and 14 years start getting addicted to these non-nicotine based hookah pen, they are more likely to move on to cigarettes and finally drugs. Plus, there is no study done to prove that this product is completely safe,” said Dr Mohta.

The filler liquid that is sold separately can be modified to become a delivery mechanism for anything, according to a former hookah parlour owner. “This e-cigarette is actually more dangerous than the hookahs we were using. Here, the smoke is delivered completely through chemicals and one can add addictive narcotics to it for getting a high. It’s a surprise that these things are available so easily in the market,” said the parlour owner.

Toxins in the various chemical combinations included in the filler liquid, may cause cancer according to an awareness fact sheet by Centre for Disease Control. In fact, CDC has put up poster of a school going kid with the warning that young children to use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke cigarettes.

This non-nicotine product straddles between a grey area according to officials, due to which they cannot act. Rakesh Trivedi, joint commissioner of FDA, said, “Actually a few years ago I had written to the authorities concerned that we must think about bringing e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, under a new drug category so that it can be regulated stringently. But as of now, it does not come under any specific monitoring agency.”

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