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Kansas schools try to tackle teen vaping epidemic

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Posted at 1:17 PM, Sep 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-25 10:42:09-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The first time Alyssa Murray remembers seeing an e-cigarette was in the student parking lot at her high school, after a football game.

“Everyone was just hanging out and some upperclassmen were Juuling,” she said.

Now, Murray sees underclassman using electronic cigarettes, too. And she sees it every day— in the bathroom, in between classes, outside of school.

The now-senior has made a pledge not to vape and is encouraging her classmates to stop through the Johnson County Teen Task Force.

“A lot of my peers say it’s harmless or it’s just water vapor but they are really not educating themselves on the chemicals that are inside the vape product,” Murray said.

A “teenage epidemic”

Teen vaping is on the rise and has continued to swell. A statewide survey conducted by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment revealed one in 10 Kansas high schoolers vape regularly. The same study found one in five high school students have tried vaping.

Electronic cigarettes have been described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but health experts warn they still contain highly addictive nicotine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some vaping products have been found to contain other potentially harmful substances, such as diacetyl, in flavoring chemicals, which has been linked to lung disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

“We know that it caused immense scarring that was irreversible, inflammatory changes, and swelling within the airways and lungs. We predicted it would happen in vaping again and sadly, there has been vaping respiratory failure and a couple of deaths,” said Dr. Chris Jensen, a Blue Valley science teacher and medical doctor who has worked for the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC has reported nine deaths that are vaping-related. Of those deaths, two happened in Kansas, two in California, and one each in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri and Oregon, according to a CNN report. There are also 530 confirmed cases of lung injures related to vaping.

Patients with vaping-related illnesses in Kansas have reportedly used a variety of products. Some use nicotine, others THC and others use a combination according to the CNN report.

Blue Valley School District

Before reports of hospitalizations and deaths connected to vaping, the Blue Valley School District acknowledged vaping had become problematic in its schools.

“Students were selling the devices and the vape pods to other classmates. That’s when we said we have to figure this out,” David Stubblefield, Blue Valley’s executive director of school administration said.

Last year, the district created and began implementing a new policy to specifically target vaping.

The district equalized the consequences for students caught possessing or distributing vapes or vape-related products to that of marijuana or alcohol – a five-day out of school suspension, which can be reduced to three days if a student completes an online medically based program called Aspire, created by MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The district also hosted “Vaping in the Valley,” an event where they informed about 200 parents, educators and students about the scope of the problem.

Jensen said he believes the district’s efforts are having a positive impact this year.

Goddard School District

Other school districts are trying different tactics to stop and prevent student vaping.

Earlier this month, Goddard school officials held a press conference to announce their intentions of suing the makers, distributors and sellers of electronic cigarettes and vaping products – the first school district in the country believed to announce such action, according to Wichita NBC affiliate KSNW.

“It has become apparent to us over the last couple of years that we have a crisis of vaping,” school board President Kevin McWhorter said during the press conference. “We have found that [vaping] is disruptive to our educational process on a daily basis. And we believe it is our responsibility as a school district to protect the kids from what we feel is a growing crisis.”

Goddard is located just west of Wichita.

The suit is expected to be filed in a couple of weeks.