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Vaping and e-cigarettes continue to be a concern in schools as new year begins

WAYZATA — Area schools are facing everyday concerns regarding e-cigarette use and vaping devices as the devices become more discrete and are targeted at youth with different flavored e-liquids.

Teachers and staff at local schools find students in bathrooms and in hallways with vaping devices and e-cigarettes. The devices are small and often resemble USB drives. They can be nearly odorless when used.

Not all students are cited for underage tobacco use when caught vaping or smoking, said Steve Dahlson, the student resource officer for Wayzata High School. Each offense is looked at on a case-by-case basis and sometimes the school and the police department decide it is in the best interest of the student to let them off with a warning. This most often happens with first-time offenders, Dahlson said.

The Wayzata Police Department has started including vaping devices in its compliance checks, Dahlson mentioned. Previously when completing a compliance check, the person completing the check would ask for a pack of cigarettes. Since vaping has become the most common use of tobacco products for youth, the department has started asking for vaping products as well.

High schools are not the only ones who need to be on the lookout for vaping — students in middle schools are frequently found in possession of vaping devices. Dahlson told Lakeshore Weekly News, the Wayzata Police Department would very rarely cite a middle schooler and therefore does not have statistics on how many middle school-age students are vaping in Wayzata schools.

By the numbers

Cigarette use has been going down in the United States. According to the American Lung Association in 2015, only 9.3% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days. In 1997, 36.4% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days.Nicotine use — on the other hand — is on the rise and e-cigarettes are to blame. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 1.5 million more youth e-cigarette users in 2018 than 2017, putting the number at 4.9 million youth tobacco product users in 2018.So far, one person has died in Minnesota from vaping. Nationwide, there have reportedly been 1,299 lung injury cases and 26 other deaths in connection with vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most patients report a history of using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products, particularly those obtained off the street or from unofficial sources.

Across Minnesota, officials are seeing a steep incline in the usage of e-cigarettes, according to a Minnesota Department of Health news release.

A quarter of 11th-grade students reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, according to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, which is a 54% increase from two years ago. In 2016, 17% of 11th-graders had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.

“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 news release said.

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 news 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 include: 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 Minnesota Department of Health to declare a public health emergency in critical situations.

Cities across Minnesota are taking action to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21. This summer, Hennepin County became the 39th city or county in Minnesota to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, and is the ninth community in the state to restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products to adult-only stores, a July 9 news release from Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of organizations that have the goal of reducing youth smoking, said. Hennepin County’s rules go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.Within Hennepin County, several cities have Tobacco 21 policies, including Excelsior, Minnetonka and Plymouth, according to ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit that is funded by money that tobacco companies pay to the state.Meanwhile, in Carver County, several cities last year 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 services for Carver County. “However, we currently do not have an active campaign to change county or municipal policy on vaping or tobacco licensing ordinances.”

Reporter Alex Chhith contributed to this report.