Popularity of vaping among students raises concerns
Topeka — Kansas schools are struggling to prevent vaping among students, even as growing cases appear nationwide of a mysterious lung disease related to the use of electronic cigarettes.
E-cigarettes have been described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but health officials say their high nicotine content can harm developing brains and encourage cigarette use. Mark Thompson, a consultant focused on health and physical education at the Kansas State Department of Education, said schools began to see the impact of vaping among students last academic year.
“Vaping has been around for a number of years, but it really exploded in 2018,” Thompson told The Wichita Eagle .
A Kansas Department of Education survey of 2,000 high school students in 2017 found that 32.2% had tried vaping.
Vaping is attractive to teens because the small devices aren’t easily detectable when smoked. Thompson said he’s heard of students vaping in class and exhaling into a hoodie to hide their use.
“They could actually vape in the classroom because you’re not going to pick up on the odor and if you can control where the vape goes, then it’s almost unnoticeable,” Thompson said. “That’s a unique challenge.”
It’s so challenging that Blue Valley Schools, one of the largest districts in Kansas, called vaping a “growing epidemic in our community” that needs to be fought.
Vaping requires extra attention because of its inherent dangers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that 193 people in 22 states have contracted an unidentified respiratory disorder illness after vaping, and at least one person has died.
Three cases have been submitted to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, agency spokeswoman Ashley Jones-Wisner said. She declined to release the locations or ages of those affected because of patient confidentiality.
The CDC said that while vaping links all the cases, “it is not clear these cases have a common cause” or if they are different diseases. Symptoms have included difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain.
Thompson said raising the legal age for buying e-cigarettes and related products to 21 could curtail vaping in schools.
“Similar to alcohol, it moves up the age so you’re putting more hurdles in place for young adults to gain access to those products,” he said.