I recently stopped at my regular station to get gas. On top of the pump was a colorful and decorative item that was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand. Someone had set it there and forgotten it.

I guess I’m behind the times because I thought it was some kind of artwork. I showed it to my high school son, who corrected me right away. I don’t know if I should be impressed or worried that he knew it was a vaping device called a Drop, and, as he pointed out, a really nice one at that. He said it would cost about $50 new.

I’ve been hearing about vaping for several years now. I’ve seen people inhale on them, and the devices looked like a flash drive or thumb drive. It turns out there’s a vast range of vaping products and accessories on the market.

Many of the people I’ve seen vaping are teens. I was in the high school parking lot one day last spring and saw several students vaping on their way to their cars. I know a couple of the kids, and I was disappointed when I saw them do it. They’re smart, play sports, polite, and yet doing something incredibly stupid.

If you have a son or daughter in high school, chances are good that he or she has been exposed to vaping.

Electronic cigarettes and vaping devices are covered under our state’s statutes for tobacco products, which means a person must be 18 years old to buy them. Well, as we know, teens have a knack for getting around obstacles like laws that prohibit sales to minors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38% of high schoolers and 13% of middle schoolers have tried vaping at least once. Those percentages may be low because they’re based on self-reporting.

The problem, just like with tobacco, is that vaping brings a slew of health risks. Users put nicotine and chemicals directly into their bodies, and we know the dangers that poses.

It’s interesting how the tobacco culture has changed over the years. When I was a kid, smoking was commonplace. I remember my Little League coach telling my dad he smoked two packs during every one of our games. Now I know only a handful of people who smoke, and lighting up is generally frowned upon in social settings. The bad news is that vaping is erasing the progress made toward fewer teens smoking.

A dozen years ago, Minnesota enacted the Freedom to Breathe Act of 2007 that prohibited smoking in workplaces including bars and restaurants. At the time, I felt the government was overreaching and should let businesses decide for themselves if they wanted to allow their customers to smoke indoors.

Now I’m glad for the legislation. I take smoke-free environments for granted, until I travel to a place like Las Vegas where smoking is still allowed in most hotels and casinos. Then I’m reminded that smoking really stinks and the smoke gets in my hair and clothes.

The Freedom to Breathe Act has been extended, or clarified, to ban e-cigarettes and vaping in most public indoor spaces in Minnesota. But it’s hard to enforce.

Vaping is marketed as being more socially acceptable than tobacco and doesn’t have the heavy, lingering smell. In fact, some vaping flavors are designed to smell like candy. Yet vaping is still as addictive, some say even more addictive, than tobacco. In other words, it’s not something we want our kids or our kids’ friends doing.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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