Vaping incidents are declining at Chaska High School, as media coverage of hundreds of reported lung illnesses ramps up.
This year school staff has only encountered one incident involving vape pens, said Administrative Dean Chuck Nelson. Before this year, the number of incidents involving vape devices had been steadily increasing. The pens resemble a USB and users can purchase juice cartridges containing nicotine, THC or CBD in a variety of flavors.
During the 2017-18 school year, staff found 27 tobacco-related products. In 2018-19, they found 37, an average of 3-5 products per month. Nearly every case involved vape pens. In the past three years there has been only one incident with regular cigarettes, Nelson noted.
Typically, students will try vaping because it looks cool and they like the nicotine rush, Nelson said.
“That’s what kids say. Then they started it and try it a few times and then they get hooked,” he said.
Nelson believes the decline is due to more awareness from the flurry of national media attention on the issues.
“This year it’s steadily declined … it was one incident and we found it searching for something else,” he said, adding that in previous years, staff would find students vaping in the bathrooms.
Teachers have also been focusing on educating students about the potential dangers of vaping, but the extent of the curriculum can be limited due to the lack of research on vape pens.
“A lot of it is harder because there isn’t a lot of research. It’s so fresh, but we’re starting to see some of that now,” Nelson added.
If staff find a student’s e-cigarette, they are given an in-school suspension and will have to complete reflections and lessons with an interventionist — a new position at Chaska High School.
Parents are also contacted and a drug and alcohol counselor will call the student and will tell them they can get more help to stop the habit.
“For the most part we don’t see a lot of repeat offenders,” he said.
Parents should talk to their children about the issue, Nelson added.
“I would say ask if they saw anyone do it, do they know what it looks like,” adding that parents should highlight unknown health effects that come with smoking an e-cigarette.
Across Minnesota, officials are seeing a steep increase in the usage of electronic cigarettes, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
A quarter of 11th grade students reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, according to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, a 54% increase from two years ago. In 2016, that number among 11th graders was 17%.
“The jump among eighth graders is even more significant, with nearly twice as many students (11% in 2019 compared to 5.7% in 2016) reporting using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days,” the results of the survey stated, according to a MDH press release.
About 75% of 11th grade students also said there was either no risk, a slight risk or moderate risk of using e-cigarettes.
The results of the survey has led Gov. Tim Walz to direct the commissioners of health and education to launch an “aggressive” outreach campaign, according to the press release.
“This includes conducting informational briefings across the state as well as other activities to get information to parents, students and health care providers to make sure people understand the risks of vaping,” the release stated.
The list of legislative options under consideration includes: raising the statewide legal age for tobacco to 21; prohibiting the internet sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping products; prohibiting the sale of all flavored nicotine and tobacco products; and providing authority for MDH to declare a public health emergency in critical situations, according to the release.
Traditionally, e-cigarettes were seen to be a healthier alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. However, the sharp increase in injuries and deaths that may be tied to vaping have health officials questioning the safety of vaping and it has even spurred President Donald Trump’s administration to ban the sale of most flavored e-cigarette cartridges, according to the New York Times.
So far, three people have died in Minnesota from severe lung injuries associated with vaping, according to the MDH website. There are 73 confirmed or probable cases related to vaping lung injuries and 33 cases that are under review, as of Oct. 17. The last two deaths were reported on Oct. 16 and involved people over the age of 50.
“Both died in September following complicated hospitalizations. The patients developed difficulty breathing, which prompted their hospitalizations. Investigators determined the first patient vaped a number of products, including illegal THC. The second patient had severe underlying conditions and is believed to have vaped unknown products in addition to nicotine,” according to the release.
MDH officials recommend people vaping nicotine to help quit smoking consider “alternative options to support their quit efforts.”
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said people should avoid vaping illegal cannabis products because almost all Minnesotans who developed severe lung injuries had a history of vaping illegal cannabis, according to the release.
Nationwide, there have reportedly been 1,479 lung injury cases and 33 other deaths in connection with vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, several cities increased the age limit to purchase tobacco and the Carver County Board discussed increasing the age limit, countywide. However, no action was taken by the board.
“We are continuously providing information via social media and personally sharing information with our collaborating partners on the latest research pertaining to vaping and other substance use issues,” according to an email from Dr. Richard Scott, deputy division director of Health and Human Services. “However, we currently do not have an active campaign to change county or municipal policy on vaping or tobacco licensing ordinances.”