Adults Must Wake Up to the Vaping Epidemic That Is Hurting Our Teens

Over the last 18 months, adolescent vaping has become a major topic in the educational and popular media, bringing a significant issue into sharper public focus. The recent instances of lung failure in teens should galvanize us to action. Eight teens in Wisconsin were hospitalized for lung failure ostensibly related to vaping earlier this summer, as was 17-year-old Tryston Zohfeld right here in North Texas.Surprising as it might be to some, electronic cigarettes became the most commonly used tobacco product among middle school and high school students back in 2014. According to the Centers for Disease Control, by the year 2018 the number of high school students who self-identified as current vapers had increased more than 13-fold (and more than eightfold for middle school students) compared to 2011 levels. Yet, despite more and more evidence mounting, the response from adults seems slow and lackluster.As a principal of a private school in Texas, I can attest to the reality these statistics suggest. For a generation of parents and teachers that didn't grow up with vaping, there is a widespread lack of knowledge about the health risks involved. One parent, whose child was found with the equivalent tobacco content of 12 packs of cigarettes, had to google "vaping" in order to understand what his son was doing.Some aspects of teen vaping have gotten a lot of attention in the policy realm, but other aspects have yet to be explored sufficiently. Flavoring of vaping liquid is cited by between 30% and 40% of teen users as a reason they use e-cigarettes, according to research from the University of Michigan Institute of Social Research. The regulatory focus by the Food and Drug Administration and self-regulation by vaping product company JUUL is well deserved. However, we can't end the conversation there. Another factor cited by teens as piquing their curiosity is the design of vapes, according to Yale University researchers, which can attract teens just like the newest smartphone. Vapes that are sleek and small are also easily hidden or mistaken for USB drives, making enforcement in school difficult. Policy that addresses this aspect is sorely needed as we look for every available avenue to help discourage teen use.As parents and educators, we owe it to the next generation to educate ourselves about this new threat and lobby for needed policies that can help curb this epidemic. The health of our teens is too important for us not to get involved.Maury Grebenau is the high school principal at Yavneh Academy of Dallas. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.  Continue reading...

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