School Board Review: Vaping – Dangerous clouds on the horizon

By Scott Rothschild 

The stories aren’t pretty. 

Lung damage, explosions, addiction, drug use and in recent cases in other states, even death. 

The problem of young people puffing on e-cigarettes, often referred to as vaping, has hit the nation and Kansas schools like an earthquake.  

“It has exploded. It is an epidemic,” said Mark Thompson, a program consultant with the Kansas State Department of Education. 

From 2017 to 2018, the use of e-cigarettes by high school students in the United States increased 78 percent from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent. In 2017, almost 35 percent of Kansas high school students reported they’d tried e-cigarettes and 10.6 percent said they regularly used them, according to the Kansas Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  

Health officials say those numbers will go up when those surveys are updated, they are seeing increased usage at the middle school level and some young people are using their e-cigarette devices to use illegal drugs. 

High school bathrooms are being called JUUL rooms — named after the leading product used for vaping; addicted students have begged school officials for another hit off their device before it is taken away by their parents; and stories emerge daily about young people hospitalized because of vaping and exploding devices. 

Six months ago, meetings about the danger of vaping caught the attention of a handful of parents. Now they draw standing-room-only crowds.   

What happened 

E-cigarettes are devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which usually contains nicotine and other chemicals in a liquid solution. Inhaling activates a battery-operated heating device, which vaporizes the liquid solution. The liquid — e-juice — comes in scores of flavors and marketed to look like candies with names like Candy Crush, Blue Razz, Cream Cookie, and Cinnablaze. 

The devices look like pipes, cigarettes, or everyday items like pens or USB memory sticks, which are easy to conceal from teachers and parents. The smoke from these devices dissipates quickly and doesn’t smell, which increases its ability to be used without detection.  

E-cigs have been advertised as helping people quit smoking but studies have shown young people who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes. Even the terms vape or vaping are misnomers created by the e-cigarette industry. The cloud that comes out of the smoker’s mouth is not water vapor, but an aerosol that includes nicotine, which is a highly addiction chemical, cancer-causing chemicals, flavoring linked to lung disease, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin and lead.  

“No amount of nicotine is safe for a young person to be using. We need to make sure our young people are not exposed to this product,” said Jordan Roberts, youth prevention program manager with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  

Roberts said she is hearing of children smoking two JUUL pods a day — each pod has the nicotine equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. 

The increase in e-cigarette use is erasing two decades of progress in reducing teen nicotine addiction, advocates say. 


Roberts is urging students to apply for $250 mini grants to inform schools about the dangers of using e-cigarettes. The applications are being accepted through Sept. 20. More information is at Peer-to-peer education is the most effective way to inform students, she said.  

In addition, education and health officials are seeking an increase in the minimum age in Kansas to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21. The issue is likely to be considered during the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January.  

Already, some 22 local governments in Kansas, covering about a quarter of the state’s population, has raised the age to 21.  

Earlier this summer, the State Board of Education formed a working group that has provided recommendations to better inform students, parents and the general public about the dangers of e-cigarettes. KASB has been part of the working group and provides advise to boards and districts that wish to adopt or strengthen anti-smoking and anti-vaping policies. 

KDHE recommends a comprehensive tobacco-free and vape-free school policy that prohibits all types of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes for all students, staff and visitors on all school grounds at all times. As of October 2017, only one in three Kansas school districts had such a comprehensive policy but recently, with assistance from KASB, at least a dozen districts have updated their policies. Officials have also been quick to note that tobacco cessation resources should be available for both students and staff. 

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