LIHUE — Children, according to Emma Tokioka, are watching online videos to learn how to crush and snort Smarties candies, or light up a Twix bar, to “try and look cool.”
“I have seen kids try to smoke it at school,” the Kauai High School freshman said .
Smoking or snorting candy is an activity that concerns parents and the medical community, along with prevention groups that see it as a gateway activity.
Dr. Carl L. Yu, a pediatrics physician at Kauai Medical Clinic and Wilcox Memorial Hospital, said children across the country are smoking or snorting Smarties because it resembles high-risk behavior with what people believe is a harmless substance. There are, however, health risks involved in smoking or snorting the candy, Yu said.
Those risks include irritation of the lungs, resulting in wheezing, cuts and scarring to the nose, mouth or throat from shards of candy, and infection from sugar residue and pieces of candy becoming lodged in the nose.
“One expert has even warned that frequent snorting can lead to maggots feeding on the residue inside a child’s nose,” Yu said. “It is important that parents discuss the dangers of these actions with their children.”
Cherisse Zaima, a mother of two boys ages 12 and 14 in Hanamaulu, said her younger son is a middle school student who struggled with peer pressure.
“My son shared with me casually that friends at school were crushing up Smarties and snorting it,” Zaima said. “I freaked out. Then, I had a discussion with him and asked him to explain. He said they are using dollar bills to snort it to feel like they are doing drugs.”
After explaining the dangers of inhaling substances into the body and emulating drug behavior, her son admitted to trying it once. His mother said watching his cousin deal with a real drug problem first-hand may have helped the boy see the activity as distasteful and dangerous.
“He knew I would be mad, but we talked about it and he knows to come and talk with me about anything,” she said.
Kyara Brunao, an intern with the Kauai County Drug Program, is working toward a degree in addiction counseling at Northern Arizona University. She said Smarties, in many ways, is a gateway activity that will shape behavior so that children follow through on the real thing when they are older and have money and access to tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine or other illicit drugs.
“More middle school students are already doing this,” Brunao said.
Peer education with youth leaders in schools is one way to begin, she said. They start out in the program as freshman, stay with program throughout high school and become peer leaders.
Tokioka said children can buy Smarties because it’s just candy. Students, she said, bring it into the classroom and show off by using it like a drug when the teachers are not looking.
It’s like any other activity in school, she said. If someone popular is doing it, then everyone wants to try it. If someone isn’t popular, then no one cares.
Tokioka said it helps when role models from upper grade levels come into the classroom and talk about prevention.
The D.A.R.E officers from the Kauai Police Department also keep watch and talk about the dangers of drugs.
“YouTube and social media are a huge thing and we need to be more responsible about what we put on there,” Zaima said. “People who are parents have photos of themselves partying on these sites that are accessible to their youth. We need to be more conscious about what our kids have access to.”
Kauai County Drug Program Director Theresa Koki said peer pressure is the primary factor in getting kids to do something they normally wouldn’t do. They go into the school lavatories or other nooks and crannies on campus and see their friends doing this and suppress their inner voice that says it is not right, she said.
“They see the big kids doing real drugs and want to copy that so they feel important,” Koki said.
Further research may reveal the dangers of ingesting sugar into the body in this manner and how fast it gets absorbed into the blood stream, such as sinus, brain or lung-related problems, according to Koki.
Whatever it leads to, it won’t be good, she said.
“There are worse things going on in the middle schools when there are student drug dealers on the streets and corners,” she said. “But we want to bring awareness to the other things that kids are doing and what they are getting their hands on.”
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing email@example.com.