Keep calm and vape on: UK embraces e-cigarettes, US cautious

FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 17, 2018 file photo, a man breathes vapes from an e-cigarette at a vape shop in London. While the U.S. scrambles to crack down on vaping, Britain has embraced electronic cigarettes as a powerful tool to help smokers kick the habit.

Vaping among teenagers and young adults is a hot topic that many parents and public administrators are addressing in the school systems. Vaping-related illnesses and deaths are being reported across the country with unknown causes.

“While some cases in each of the states are similar and appear to be linked to vaping product use, more information is needed to determine what is causing the respiratory illnesses,” said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an article "Lung Illnesses Associated with Use of Vaping Products" on its website.

In many cases, symptoms were similar and patients reported vaping before the illness.

“Patients reported a gradual start of symptoms, including breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, and/or chest pain before hospitalization,” the article said. “Some cases reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal illness including vomiting and diarrhea, or other symptoms such as fevers or fatigue.”

In an article "Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping" published on Sept. 19 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they report 530 cases of vaping illness, and six deaths; 16 percent of these cases occurred in children under 18.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated what many are urging teens: “Anyone who uses an e-cigarette or vaping product should not buy these products (e.g., e-cigarette or vaping products with THC or CBD oils) off the street, and should not modify or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer.”

Some schools have taken drastic measures such as taking the doors off stalls in the bathrooms (Wilson High School in Alabama) or installing detectors designed to specifically pick up vaping smoke in order to curb the trend.

Auburn City Schools

Auburn City Schools has looked into the vaping epidemic on its own campuses.

One way that the system combats vaping is by having a lot of adults and officials on the Auburn High campus. Shannon Pignato, the principal at Auburn High, has four assistant principals, three School Resource Officers and a K9 unit to help assist her, said spokesman Daniel Chesser.

Before the school year even starts, both students and parents sign a code of conduct for Auburn High. In this code of conduct is an agreement that students will not vape at school. In addition, they are asked not to vape at school functions, Chesser said.

“We treat the offense, if caught, the same as we would with smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco, which is basically, on the first offense, three days of in-school suspension,” Chesser said.

Vaping, though it has existed for a long time, has only recently become popular with younger generations, Chesser said, they started seeing the issue arise more often last year.

“The main goal of our’s, from the school system’s standpoint is to first, be very stern on the discipline that comes with being caught vaping, but also just preventing it from happening in the first place,” Chesser said.

While there have been no sensors installed right now at Auburn City Schools, Chesser said this could be something they consider for the future. As far as following Wilson High's footsteps on removing stall doors in the bathrooms, Chesser said there are no plans to do that.

“We’re evaluating some course material and modules for our students to help educate them on the dangers, and even working with the administration at the high school to have plans for prevention and awareness, by bringing speakers to share the dangers of vaping,” Chesser said. “That would include educational sessions for parents and families to attend after hours, so those are things that we’re all working on to combat the issue.”

Another way the school is trying to help students is by having specialists with East Alabama Mental Health discuss the topic with them.

“So this is something that we’ve been very proactive about to educate our students in an effort to prevent them starting vaping in the first place,” Chesser said.

Vaping pens are easy to carry in a pocket or backpack and one of the most popular forms is a JUUL.

“I think the technology is so new and then the fact that it is easy to conceal and be discreet and that kind of thing, I think that’s what makes it attractive,” Chesser said.

Opelika High School

Opelika High School chooses to deal with vaping as it occurs and not with a formal discipline policy.

"It's a societal issue and we are touched by it like everyone else,” said Opelika High School Principal Farrell Seymore.  “We deal with it on a case by case basis to get the issue resolved with the students and their families. Our priority is student safety." 

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