School leaders are battling their latest student health concern: A rise in vaping

Rampant electronic cigarette use — or vaping — by area teens have Butler County schools scrambling to battle against the newest and trendy delivery devices of nicotine’s potent drug high.

A recent national survey revealed one in five high school seniors say they have vaped in the previous month, raising an issue that local officials say they have also seen in this region.

VIDEO & STORY: Survey: 1 in 5 high school seniors nationwide report vaping within last month

Vaping, also known as juuling, “is quickly becoming a bigger problem in our secondary schools,” said Larry Knapp, superintendent of Hamilton Schools. The dramatic increase in this unhealthy student behavior is very alarming.”

Electronic cigarettes are small — as tiny as a USB computer drive — battery-powered devices that provide nicotine and other additives to the user in the form of an aerosol. They can also include minute amounts of flavored oil adding pleasing tastes to the experience of inhaling the aerosol and exhaling an odorless vapor.

The concentration of nicotine is often many times stronger than provided by traditional cigarettes and intensifies the user’s susceptibility to addiction to the powerful drug, which can severely alter teens’ personalities and harm their still-developing brains, officials said.

Medical experts warn nicotine additions can radically impact teens’ abilities to concentrate and may fuel wide mood swings, impede motivation and contribute to some teens already prone to depression.

Also worrisome, say experts, is that vaping is an easy gateway to cigarette use by teens.

Health officials from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report “current e-cigarette use increased considerably among U.S. middle and high school students during 2017–2018, reversing a decline observed in recent years and increasing overall tobacco product use.”

“Moreover, during 2017–2018, frequent e-cigarette use increased among high school students. Although e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers if used as a complete substitute for combustible tobacco smoking, the use of any form of tobacco product among youths, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe,” said health officials.

Like cigarettes, vaping is prohibited at schools. But Lisa Tuttle-Huff, superintendent of Madison Schools, said the prevention war against vaping has many battle fronts beyond students and school campus boundaries.

“I was shocked recently to watch a mother at a non-school sponsored event at a local sports complex hand her daughter a vape to take a puff. We need parents to understand the risks as well,” said Tuttle-Huff, whose district is one of the first Butler County to schedule student and parent anti-vaping informational events this month.

“We are combating the problem on a daily basis. Teens are attracted to the Juul. It is small and resembles a computer flash drive and is easily concealed. Juul emits short puffs of flavors that quickly dissipate, so it is difficult to catch students with the devices,” she said.

Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota Schools, said “the considerable increase of electronic cigarettes and other vaping products among both youth and young adults in recent years - and the research around their harmful effects - is concerning and is something that our high school administrators are discussing.”

“Our teachers and staff are on high alert for e-cigarette products. Students who are found with these products in their possession are subject to disciplinary action,” said Fuller.

But schools have to first catch students vaping, which they say is not an easy task.

West Chester Police Officer Keith Beall works as school resource officer for Butler Tech’s Bioscience high school program and is one of county’s leaders in coordinating with other SROS both vaping prevention and informational programs. The stealth nature of vaping and its few tell-tale signs make detection at schools difficult, said Beall.

“This is an ongoing battle,” Beall said. “Kids are vaping in bathroom stalls, though for the most part this goes unnoticed and undetected.”

“These devices are so small they can often be confused with USB devices … (and) there is no aroma like cigarettes and because it’s vapor there is no visual detection,” he said.

Reduction of the harmful trend will require a partnership between schools and parents, said area school officials.

Fuller said “we encourage our (Lakota) parents to speak to their children about the dangers of e-cigarettes. This reinforces at home what students learn in health classes about the harmful effects of tobacco and tobacco substitutes.”

Local teachers too are now being asked to rush to get up to speed on vaping, said Abbie Cook, principal of Butler Tech’s Bioscience School.

“It is frustrating. Teachers already have so much to keep up with now they have to study what vapes and the paraphernalia looks like. It was actually an assignment I gave them over break,” said Cook. “The young start new trends so quickly we always seem to be playing catch up.”

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