The health warnings, banning and cautionary tales about the potential dangers of vaping - especially for teenagers - has increased in number in recent weeks as reports of life-threatening illnesses associated with the product are released. In Butler County schools, officials are gearing up for another year of anti-vaping campaigns aimed to dissuade young people from taking up the habit. (File Photo/Journal-News)
Photo: EVA HAMBACH/AFP
Photo: EVA HAMBACH/AFP

How Butler County schools are battling student vaping among nationwide scrutiny

Last week, Michigan banned vaping, and other states are watching closely as they consider doing the same.

Last week also saw a rash of news stories on the growing number of cases of young people suffering collapsed lungs and being hospitalized with aliments some medical experts are connecting to vaping.

And officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a joint report revealing 215 possible vaping-linked cases have been reported from 25 states, and additional reports of other pulmonary illnesses under investigation.

State and local public health officials in Ohio have confirmed that three reports of severe pulmonary illness are likely due to vaping, and they say they are investigating an additional 11 reports of illness.

The Ohio Department of Health issued an alert to healthcare providers on Aug. 23 asking them to report all suspected cases of serious pulmonary illness where the cause is unclear with a history of vaping to local or state public health officials for investigation.

Ohio’s three confirmed victims range in age from 18 to 26 years old, include two females and one male, and all required hospitalization. The confirmed cases are in Lucas, Richland, and Union counties.

For teachers like Jimmy Bush, health teacher at Butler County’s Middletown High School, all the bad news about vaping is good news for him as he compiles his classroom lesson plans to dissuade teens from getting addicted to the nicotine-based inhalers.

“It’s all in the news and you see vaping going on everywhere, so awareness is high,” said Bush.

MORE: Local students create anti-vaping campaign, educating local police departments

Middletown High School, like all others in Ohio, does not allow vaping on school grounds, but Bush said students tell him it remains widespread among their peers.

Last school year saw Butler County’s 10 school districts launch numerous anti-vaping programs. That included Hamilton’s institution of a search system for vaping devices with possible urine testing for those found with those devices.

MORE: Hamilton Schools launch shock and awe campaign against student vaping

Bush devoted four classroom days to educating his students about vaping during the 2018-19 school year. But this school year he is setting aside 10 class days to better address vaping’s increasingly revealed health dangers.

“As dangerous as it is, it’s a top issue to address, and we have the support of school administrators in doing this,” he said.

School teachers and administrators at other area districts are gearing up their resources to help students avoid vaping or kick the habit. But one of the keys to any school anti-vaping campaign is support at home, said officials at Lakota Schools.

“We encourage our parents to speak to their children about the dangers of e-cigarettes,” said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the 16,500-student school system.

“This reinforces at home what students learn in health classes about the harmful effects of tobacco and tobacco substitutes,” said Fuller.

“Our teachers and staff are on high alert for e-cigarette products. 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 continue to discuss,” she said.

The anti-vaping campaign in Edgewood Schools started with messages sent to school families well before the first day of classes last month.

“At Edgewood High School … we began communicating our anti-vaping expectations before school began in August along with the consequences a student would experience if they possessed a vape pen or were caught vaping at school,” said Principal Doug Geygan.

“And we reviewed this information with our parents during our open house event as well as with our 1,200 high school students once school began,” said Geygan.

Edgewood students caught vaping on school grounds get a double dose of discipline and instructional deterrence.

“We have also partnered our Safety Resource Officer (SRO) from the Butler County Sheriff Office, to assist in reinforcing the dangers of vaping. If a student is found vaping or possessing a vape pen, they must meet with our SRO,” he said.

“The purpose of this meeting is to review the dangers of vaping as well as deter on-going use that could lead to serious health issues and additional disciplinary action,” said Geygan.

Partnerships are key in marshalling resources to fight student vaping, said officials at Fairfield Schools, where anti-vaping messages are often part of schools’ morning and afternoon announcements. There are also anti-vaping signs – often created by students - in schools.

But Deborah Neyer, executive director of the Fairfield Prevention Coalition, which works closely with the city school system, said so far partnerships haven’t turned the tide.

“We are losing this battle,” said Neyer.

“I was talking with a couple of youth coalition members the other day and they were trying to count the number of students on their respective teams and extracurricular groups that do not vape,” said Neyer.

“Unfortunately, the numbers they came up with could be counted on one hand and about 50 to 60 percent of their peers were using,” she said.

“Michigan’s actions are step in the right direction. Juul (brand) and other e-cigarette manufacturers use advertising and packaging to peak curiosity; flavors to get youth to try the product and nicotine to hook the user,” said Neyer, adding “40 percent of e-cigarette users have never tried a cigarette.”

“Nicotine is one of the most addictive compounds that exists and in and of itself is a toxic chemical. The liquid in which nicotine is suspended in (vaping devices) contains harmful chemicals, which are proven carcinogens.”

“This generation is the guinea pig of these products,” she said.

Staff Writer Kaitlin Schroeder contributed to this story