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KC teen recovers from vaping-related illness as school districts make plan to tackle epidemic

Posted at 6:13 AM, Sep 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-10 07:13:01-04

LAWRENCE, Kan. — A Kansas City metro teenager is out of the hospital after spending 10 days recovering from a lung illness connected to vaping.

The 17-year-old asked to remain anonymous but wanted to share her story. She had been using a vape infused with THC for nine months, when she suddenly fell it.

“When I woke up I just really felt not like myself. I just felt kind of lifeless,” she said. “I could really tell my breathing was getting bad.”

The teenager was taken to the emergency room. Doctors eventually determined she had lung damage.

Her story is becoming more frequent as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigates hundreds of cases of hospitalizations connected to vaping. As researchers try to pinpoint what is causing these illnesses, school officials are also trying to figure out a way to stop students from vaping.

“What we are seeing is increased use of vaping among our high school students at alarming rates,” said Anthony Lewis, superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools.

The Board of Education listened to a presentation on Monday about vaping and e-cigarettes, a problem they are trying to tackle.

The school district’s discussion happened hours after federal health authorities blasted Juul for marketing its electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking without federal approval. In a warning letter, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the company to stop making unproven claims for its products.

“To see something take off quiet as rapidly as this is extremely scary particularly because we do not know all of the long-term effects of vaping,” said Sarah Hartsig, the community health planner with Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

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.

“Students are vaping in bathrooms, they are vaping sometimes in the classrooms and hallways, in the cars during lunch,” said Lewis, who believes the number of teenagers who vape is even higher than what has been reported.

According to school data presented to the Board of Education, last year there were 77 vaping incidents in district high schools and 50 vaping incidents in district middle schools.

This year, just 14 days into the semester, teachers at Free State High School have caught eight students vaping — about one student every other day.

“Honestly, we’re behind the eight-ball when it comes to vaping,” Lewis said. “We’re really looking at prevention in terms of how we can educate our students.”

The school district is launching a district-wide campaign and will send letters home to parents educating them about vaping. The district has already bought new health textbooks, which explain the dangers of vaping. School officials are also researching devices that detect vaping.

“Obviously, at first, I was thinking [vaping was] great and didn’t think anything of it. Now it’s like, 'Wow, it really can mess with you,'” the teenager who is now out of the hospital warned. “I never thought I would be in the hospital because I vaped.”

There is a free e-cigarette program now available to help teenagers quit vaping. To access the program, just text “DITCHJUUL” to 88709.