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Hamblen school leaders battling vaping | Education

Incidents of vaping are on the rise at area high schools, leading educators to have to increase education to students about the possible dangers, school officials said.

“It’s a problem…” East High School Principal Joe Ely said. “Our numbers are increasing.”

The largest problems at high schools when it came to nicotine products used to be cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. But, those two products are not the nicotine fix of choice now in high schools, not only in Hamblen County, but across the country.

“Cigarettes are crashing, vaping is cool,” Ely said. “That’s the unfortunate part.”

E-cigarettes have become the new trend with a marketing strategy saying vaping is lower in nicotine and healthier than traditional tobacco products because of its use of water vapor.

Another key component of the attraction is they can come in a variety of flavors.

“Unfortunately, the marketing with the different flavors is appealing to kids,” said Tim Landefeld, assistant principal at West High School.

But, a recent rash of lung injuries now has the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, leading an investigation into a rise of injuries and even deaths.

According to the CDC, by Oct. 15 there have been 1,479 lung injury cases reported due to vaping and 34 confirmed deaths across 24 states. In Tennessee, the second confirmed vaping due to vaping was reported last week by the Tennessee Department of Health.

All of those cases reported the victims used vaping products and most involved the use of THC, a drug commonly found in marijuana.

Sherrie Montgomery, Hamblen County Health Department director, said the Hamblen County Health Council has made vaping a priority. The program Be Smart, Don’t Start/Tobacco Free HC has been a smoking cessation tool the last three years.

“That was a big emphasis,” she said. “Trying to get the word out to our youth.”

She said prevention and education will continue.

“It’s not an innocent thing to pick up and do,” she said. “And it’s a potential gateway for picking up smoking. It’s definitely had a negative effect on youth.”

She said the program Be Smart, Don’t Start/Tobacco Free HC has been going on for the last three years.

In Hamblen County schools, anyone caught vaping in schools is handled at the school level, not the district. School officials said the punishment is progressive in nature.

It is treated with the same punishment as cigarettes or smokeless tobacco.

Landefeld said at West High School he thinks around 90 percent of the incidents of students being caught with nicotine products is now around 90 percent e-cigarettes.

School officials said a big problem is that e-cigarettes can be almost undetectable compared to traditional cigarettes.

Traditional cigarettes leave a distinct smell. When someone vapes, though, because it is water vapor, they can easily blow the smoke down a shirt sleeve or jacket sleeve and no one can smell it.

“It is much harder to catch them,” Landefeld said.

School officials said the school system, and even the community, is starting to educate kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping. A campaign for smoking cessation now includes the dangers of vaping.

School officials are trying to catch up.

“We’re a step behind,” he said. “We’ve been a step behind.”

But, now both schools are incorporating more and more education about the dangers in their health and wellness classes. The need for education may need to come even sooner than high school, though.

“By the time they get to high school, they’ve already developed those habits,” Ely said.

The advent of e-cigarettes is relatively new and many studies have not been conducted yet on the dangers of the product. The e-cigarette marketing strategy took advantage of this, school officials said.

“I think it was a dangerous marketing strategy that unfortunately worked very well,” Landefeld said. “Our kids are paying the price.”

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