More than one in five U.S. high school seniors reported vaping nicotine in 2018, up from 11 percent in 2017, according to Monitoring the Future surveys.
In December, the escalating popularity of e-cigarettes prompted U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams to declare the use of vaping among teens as an “epidemic.”
The issue is just as pervasive in Idaho, where the number of young people vaping nicotine has risen rapidly.
In response, St. Luke’s has enhanced its community health and education efforts, including updating its classroom content and adding presentations to school staff
s, community leaders, parents and other stakeholders about the newest products, marketing tactics and health risks associated with vaping.
On Jan. 9, St. Luke’s Community Health Services Manager Vicky Jekich and Nampa/Fruitland Respiratory Therapy Manager Chad Franklin outlined the issues surrounding vaping for about 150 teachers and staff members from Middleton’s high school and middle school.
“A lot of young people – and adults, too – don’t realize the dangers with vaping,” Jekich said. “I can’t emphasize enough the harm that can come from vaping, in terms of the nicotine addiction, cancer risks, respiratory illness and other health concerns, such as those related to heart disease and brain development of adolescents and young adults.”
At St. Luke’s, Franklin frequently sees evidence of vaping use amongst the populations he serves. “It impacts newborns, children and adults,” he said.
Members of the Middleton Police Department, including student resource officers from each school, said students often conceal their use of vaping devices during class by blowing the “smoke” - which is actually an aerosol - into their clothes.
The two schools have more than 2,300 students combined, and teachers continue to catch students using e-cigarettes. Some students who already have turned 18, the legal age to purchase vaping devices, sell the products to underaged youth, according to the police officers.
“One thing that I realized is in my day-to-day job as a principal, I am being exposed to this epidemic every day,” Middleton High School principal Ben Merrill said. “But what we realized is that unless we can engage our teachers, getting them informed and educated on what is happening, we are not going to be able to address the issue, and stop it. The teachers are on the front line. They are seeing it every single day in the classrooms.”
More than a dozen vaping devices, most of them confiscated from students, were on display for the staff inside the Middleton High School auditorium during the St. Luke’s presentation. The devices ranged in shapes and sizes, some even resembling portable musical players and USB flash drives.
“We have confiscated a lot, but that is a fraction of what is taking place,” Merrill said.
Merrill hopes to host more education and training events with parents in the future.
“Our end goal is this: We want 100 percent of kids to stop,” Merrill said. “The only way we know we are going to do that is to leverage our partnership with our teachers and our parents.”
Jekich and Franklin shared a variety of free resources to help educate teachers and the community about the risks of vaping, as well as smoking cessation resources, such as SmokeFreeIdaho.org and The Real Cost, a website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“In 10 years, we don’t know the impact this is going to have on people,” Merrill said. “We do know how it is impacting learning today. That’s why we are so thankful to have St. Luke’s come out.”
Daniel Mediate works in the St. Luke’s Community Engagement department.