TEWKSBURY -- The electronic cigarette phenomenon has worked its way into town meetings and legislative debate.
And into our language: The word vape, as a verb, has become so common that it was the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year in 2014.
On Monday night, about 50 parents, a few teachers and industry insiders gathered at Tewksbury Congregational Church for a discussion about this growing public health matter.
Amanda Glaser, a health educator for the Chelmsford Board of Health and Chelmsford Public Schools, said she has seen an increase of e-cig abuse among students.
"Kids will always have a way to get it, just like alcohol and cigarettes," she said. "They may have older siblings or can easily go online to order it. They just have to check a box that asks if they are of a certain age."
Last week the state House of Representatives voted 146-4 to raise the age of purchase from 18 to 21.The bill will move to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. When implemented, the new law will essentially treat electronic smoking devices and substances the same as tobacco.
Second- and third-hand transference is also a problem, said presenter Maria Ruggiero, program director for the regional Substance Abuse Prevention Collaborative based at the Tewksbury Police Department. The collaborative includes the communities of Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Wilmington and Westford.
Maladies like popcorn lung come from the inhalation of diacetyl, a flavor-enhancing chemical present in all e-cigarettes.
"There are very little regulations to prevent on-line sales of devices or vape ingredients," Ruggiero said.
Nationally, the electronic cigarette market is a multi-billion-dollar industry which is, for the most part, legal with conditions. And the public sale of the products is legal. Many local vendors have implemented a local age of sale of 21 and above.
David Mattuchio, who owns Vape Station in Tewksbury, said he is totally reliant on the sale of the e-cig products.
"I check the ID of everyone who enters my store," he said. "It's allowed if you're over 21, like buying a bottle of vodka," he said.
Tewksbury Police Detective Andre Gonzalez agreed that most outlets behave responsibly with regard to sales to underage purchases.
"As law enforcement professionals, we don't know what the kids are putting in these things. There is liquefied THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) that some kids are dripping into their devices," she said.
Ruggiero, and others, want to keep the products away from children. By educating parents on what behaviors to look for from their children, as well as what physical items like devices, smells and temporary mists hint at usage, she hopes to prevent the initial use and subsequent abuse of the electronic cigarettes, which early data suggests are just as toxic, and as addictive, as traditional tobacco-based smoking.
"That 90 percent of the people who walk through my doors have a nicotine addiction that they are trying to get over," Mattuchio said.