In an effort combat the growing problem of students using e-cigarettes, Clear Creek ISD on Feb. 19 held a virtual town hall to educate parents and the public about the topic.
A few area experts served on a panel and answered questions from a moderator and the public during the livestreamed event.
Superintendent Greg Smith said there is an increase in minors using e-cigarettes across the country, turning the issue into a “national epidemic.” CCISD officials are working with legislators on an effort to increase the legal age to purchase vaping devices to 21, he said.
“There are great kids making horrible choices right now,” Smith said. “It’s a concern, and we’re not gonna bury our heads in the sand.”
Amanda McLauchlin, coalition manager for the Bay Area Alliance for Youth & Families, gave a short presentation outlining the dangers of vaping and using e-cigarettes such as Juuls.
E-cigarettes are devices that allow users to inhale flavored water vapor. In terms of nicotine content, one pod of “vape juice” is equivalent to an entire pack of cigarettes, making vaping almost as addictive as heroin, according to the American Heart Association, McLauchlin said.
The chemicals in the vapor can cause hormonal, heart, intestinal and pancreatic problems. Vaping softens enamel and increases the risk of cavities, McLauchlin said.
About 50 percent of vaping devices that students own were provided by their parents, she said.
“We need moms and dads to understand they’re not harmless,” McLauchlin said.
About 88 percent of adult smokers started before they were 18. McLauchlin said it is important to stop the problem before children carry the habit on into adulthood.
“If we can start young with the prevention piece, then we’re going to keep from having that addiction problem later in life,” she said.
Jeff Temple is a professor and director of behavioral health and research at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Temple said a frustrating part about vaping is the efforts health leaders have made to reduce cigarette use in teenagers and young adults are being negated by the rise of e-cigarettes.
“… We’re starting to see all of those benefits lost,” he said.
Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Chris McCarvell said the biggest misconception among students is they do not understand it is illegal for a minor to possess any part of an e-cigarette, even a refill pod.
Additionally, it is becoming more popular to extract THC from marijuana and use e-cigarettes to ingest it, which is a felony, McCarvell said.
“This is very, very quickly catching on,” he said.
Getting caught with an e-cigarette device that tests positive for THC is an expellable offense. Clear Creek High School Principal Jamey Majewski said he has had to recommend expulsion more times over the last year than his previous nine years in the district due to the rise of THC-infused e-cigarettes.
Smith encourages any student struggling with e-cigarette addiction to reach out to student-support counselors at the high schools. Any student who seeks help for his or her vaping problem with not face punishment, Smith said.
Smith said punitive measures are necessary but that discipline alone will not fix the problem, which is why students who seek help will not be punished.
“Help is on the way if you want it,” he said.