Shawnee County health officials are sounding the alarm on e-cigarettes, saying usage in local schools has increased 91% among 6th-12th graders from 2017-2018. School resource officers in Topeka have already confiscated dozens of vaping devices used in schools this year.
“It’s becoming more popular this year than we’ve ever seen before,” Auburn-Washburn School District Police Chief Sam Ralston said. “We are approaching one hundred cases this year at the [Washburn Rural] high school for vaping. We are seeing at least three times more cases this year than we filed in previous years.”
Ralston believes the biggest issue is how readily accessible e-cigs are for teens.
“There’s far more stores that are open now that sell electronic cigarettes,” Ralston said. “They were originally classified as a safe alternative to smoking. When you add in the special flavors that are out there, it becomes an easy option for a kid.”
County health official Craig Barnes explained the trickle-down system he thinks is contributing to younger smokers.
“Ninety-eight percent of high school seniors turn 18 before they graduate,” Barnes said. “So you’re looking at 18-year-olds who are in the school system, who have that access, already [providing it] to their younger peers,” says Craig Barnes with the Shawnee County Health Department.
Shawnee County is awaiting a decision from the Kansas Supreme Court on a Topeka ordinance to block the sale of tobacco products to people under 21 years old. Youth health concerns are the main argument for supporters.
“My concern is their health and well being, and what they’re doing to their bodies,” Ralston said. “They don’t even understand the dangers and the long term affects of what these can do to them. And it’s scary.”
Barnes said while e-cigs are sometimes thought of as a safe alternative to cigarettes, they are far from it.
“One single cartridge and pod in a Juul is the same as a pack of cigarettes,” Barnes explained.
The U.S Department of Health and Human Service’s Smoke Free Teen Campaign warns teens are more at risk of getting addicted, because their brains are still developing. Groups nationwide, statewide, and locally are coming together to fight back.
“They are accessible and it’s going to be difficult. But if we work together, and work hard to combat this and educate our kids and parents, I think we can turn the tide. It’s just not going to be quick,” Ralston said.
Local school resource officers hold annual training sessions with teachers and staff. They use cameras to monitor hallways, team up with students who are against vaping and provide information in health classes. Students also receive citations when caught with devices on school grounds.
Ralson says, “The fine is $25, and court costs are $108 for a total of $133.”
For more information, facts, and statistics visit: https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/getthefacts.html