Tecumseh, Clark County work to combat increase in teen vaping

Tecumseh Schools has “Tobacco-Free” signs up around their campus. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Tecumseh Schools has “Tobacco-Free” signs up around their campus. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Tecumseh Local School District has been working with the Clark County Combined Health District and is ahead of the curve on combating the rise of vaping and e-cigarette use among teens.

The district banned all e-cigarette and vaping on all campuses, for students, staff and parents, in their new tobacco policy before the start of the 2019-20 school year, before vaping and e-cigarette related illnesses started spiking across the United States.

Emma Smales, spokesperson for CCCHD said the health district is glad to have been ahead of the curve by partnering with Tecumseh, when it came to combating vaping use in teens.

“We have been looking at this for a while, before all this national attention, but we are glad it’s getting attention now. It’s what we want,” Smales said. “It’s been something we have been looking to address, and the state has been looking to address, over the last couple of years.”

As of Oct. 8, according to data gathered by the Center for Disease Control, 1,299 lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette, or vaping products have been reported in 49 states, the District of Columbia and 1 U.S. territory. Of those lung injuries, 26 deaths have been confirmed in 21 states, with that number expected to continue to grow. No deaths had been reported in Ohio by late last week.

While the exact cause of the mysterious lung illness is unknown, the CDC has confirmed some information; all patients have or had a reported history of using e-cigarettes, vaping, or vaping products and most patients reported a history of using THC-containing products.

“The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time,” a statement from the CDC said. “No single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases.”

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Under Tecumseh’s new policy, students who are caught vaping on campus will not face in-school suspension and a juvenile court charge like the policy previously stated. Instead, students are educated and informed about the risk vaping poses.

First-time offenders caught vaping or using an e-cigarette on campus are now required to attend a two-hour after school course taught by the Clark County Combined Health District in order to help them learn about how to quit tobacco products.

“You can tell someone don’t do something,” Superintendent Paula Crew said. “But that doesn’t mean it is going to just stop. We are trying to give students something to actually help them.”

The district held its first class a couple weeks ago, and the reception from students, parents and staff has been, “overwhelmingly positive,” Crew said.

Students can also attend the class voluntarily, if they are looking for resources into quitting.

“The class is all about how it’s an addiction within the palm of your hand. It discusses what exactly vaping does to the body and that it’s not the safer alternative,” Crew said. “It also recaps the recent deaths we have had throughout the nation. It gives them some statistics to visualize and help them to stop.”

The new policy was implemented when the district was reviewing its long-term goals over the summer, one of which was wellness. Under the new policy, smoking and vaping is banned on campus by all parties, including parents and staff.

“We thought, how are we going to realize that goal, but we are still permitting smoking on campus and allowing parents and adults to smoke is designated areas on campus. We came to the conclusion that if we permit it, we promote it as a district,” Crew said. “We are not going to permit anything we are not going to promote.”

Rise in teen use

While vaping among teens continues to rise nationwide, Clark County is no exception, Crew said.

“We are already having middle school students get caught with it. And it’s not just an us problem, this is something we are seeing across the nation,” Crew said. “Just from talking to other superintendents, the lengths the kids are willing to go to disguise it, it’s shocking.”

Crew said students will often hide vaping by pushing electrical vaping devices up their sleeves.

“So when the teacher turns around, they can just hit it,” Crew said. “They are doing it when they are outside, on the way to the bus. And because it’s mostly odorless, and unless you physically see the vape, there isn’t much we can do to stop it.”

More than 40% of Clark County teenagers reported they have tried an e-cigarette within the last year, according to the 2017 Youth Behavior Risk survey conducted by the Clark County Combined Health District. The 2018 Youth Behavior Risk survey has not yet been released, but is expected to come out within the next couple of months.

The same behavioral risk survey found more than 30% of Clark County teenagers smoked a regular cigarette.

“We know form the risk behavior survey that vaping among youth has gone up and is continuing to go up among middle and high school students, and that’s a national statistic,” Smales said. “We also know that kids who use vapes are seven-times more likely to use tobacco.”

A recently released study from the University of Michigan found that, from 2017 to 2019, rates of vaping more than doubled among eighth grades, 10th graders and high school seniors.

“It’s a major health problem,” Smales said. “This is something that the public is looking at as a major problem that needs to be changed. We don’t want this to take four decades to get rid of like we did with tobacco. Hopefully it’s a, ‘lessons learned,’ from tobacco issue.”

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Regulation

In response to the spike in health problems related to vaping and e-cigarettes, a nation wide outcry for regulation of vaping devices and e-cigarettes has caused some retail chains to pull products from their shelves.

Walmart was the first major national chain to announce it would be pulling e-cigarettes from its sleeves. Just this week, supermarket chain Kroger and drugstore chain Walgreens announced they would discontinue sales of e-cigarettes at their stores nationwide, citing an uncertain regulatory environment.

As for what is being done at the state level, in early October, a bill was introduced to the Ohio legislature that would restrict retailers of vaping products and ban the sale of flavored electronic smoking devices as well as flavored vaping products.

The move came just days after Gov. Mike DeWine announced he is researching whether he has the legal authority to ban liquid flavors used in e-cigarettes as one way to battle against children vaping.

The rise in e-cigarette use by school age teens is, “a severe public health issue that needs to be addressed,” said DeWine’s spokesman Dan Tierney.

DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton have been working on the issue, Tierney said.

“The explosive increase in vaping among our youth is a public health crisis, and we must educate them and their parents about the dangers of vaping,” Acton said. “Youth have shown an increased vulnerability to nicotine addiction, and evidence suggests that nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood had long-term impacts on brain developments.”

DeWine also signed a state law in July that will raise the smoking age from 18-years-old to 21. The ban will include vaping products and will take effect Thursday.

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With the help of the CCCHD, Tecumseh’s vaping and e-cigarette policy is the only policy among Clark County schools that does not require some type of detention or suspension for students on the first offense.

Springfield City School District, Clark-Shawnee Local Schools, Northeastern Local School District and Greenon Local School’s vaping policies all fall under the districts’ “tobacco use by students” policy.

“The Board prohibits the smoking, use of possession of tobacco in any form by any students in any area or vehicle under the control of the District or at any activity supervised by any school within the District at all times,” Springfield’s policy reads.

Punishments for students caught smoking or using an e-cigarette for the first time range from after school detention to a 3-day suspension.

While Tecumseh is happy to blaze a trail for other districts when it comes to vaping and e-cigarette use, Crew said, there is only so much school districts can do.

“Someone is buying these for students,” Crew said. “The schools cannot stop this alone, parents have to be watching as well.”

Crew said combating the vaping epidemic within the county is going to take more than one policy to turn things around.

“Whether statewide, countywide, whatever, we all have to work together,” Crew said. “Parents can’t depend on the schools to take care of this and schools can’t depend on the parents to take care of this. We have to lean on each other.”

The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering issues of public health and safety within Clark and Champaign County.

40%: of Clark County teenagers reported they have tried an e-cigarette within the last year

30%: of Clark County teenagers have smoked a regular cigarette

26: Deaths related to unknown lung injury associated with using e-cigarettes or vaping products *

1,299: Lung injury cases associated with using e-cigarette, or vaping products *

*As of Oct. 8

Source: Center for Disease Control