The rise of vaping-related health issues has the South Heartland District Health Department and others sounding the alarm on its dangers to help combat the growing use of vaping products among teenagers.
According to the latest numbers released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have 1,479 vape-related, lung-injury cases and 33 deaths related to usage of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarette products, nationwide.
Nebraska’s first death related to severe lung disease associated with vaping was reported by state health officials earlier this month.
The deceased, who died in May, resided within the Douglas County Health Department service area and was over the age of 65, health department officials said.
Marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarette smoking, the latest statistics suggest there is nothing healthy about these addictive products.
Marketing campaigns targeting youth have resulted in an alarming rise in e-cigarette sales across the nation by students.
Large percentages of students surveyed in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties indicated they have tried vaping devices or are using vaping devices, according to local survey information released by the South Heartland District Health Department.
Asked if they have ever used an e-vapor product, the survey found that 45% of students in grades nine to 12 said yes. Among seniors, that number increased to 53%.
Nearly one-third of secondary school students said they had used an e-vapor product one or more times during the past 30 days.
Tobacco companies have added a myriad of new flavors to tobacco and e-cigarettes in recent years to increase their appeal among adolescent users.
E-cigarette flavors such as cotton candy, gummy bear and peanut butter cup, and cigars with flavors like watermelon, lemonade and cherry have made them especially attractive to younger users, increasing the urgency to educate students on the dangers associated with using the addictive products.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials identifies the flavoring of tobacco and vaping products as the primary reason why so many youth are using e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.
Between 2008 and 2015, the number of unique cigar flavor names more than doubled, from 108 to 250, while researchers have identified more than 15,500 unique e-cigarette flavors currently available online.
NACCHO said the flavoring of tobacco and vaping products “alter the taste and reduce the harshness of tobacco products, making them more appealing to young people and easier for them to use. Youth often start using tobacco products with a flavored product and report that they use tobacco products ‘because they come in flavors I like.’ ”
Jeff Schneider, Hastings Public Schools superintendent, said vaping is a topic that officials from all schools should be concerned about.
At HPS, it has become part of the health curriculum to educate students at both the middle school and high school grade levels about the addictive nature and dangers associated with vaping.
“I think it’s a dangerous thing for kids to get involved with,” Schneider said. “It’s a topic we’re very concerned about. We’ve had situations that we’ve had to deal with that have involved vaping. I would be shocked if there’s a school that hasn’t dealt with it.
“It’s advertised as this great way to quit smoking, but clearly, it’s very addictive. We’re absolutely trying to educate students on it. We’re also trying to communicate with parents on it by providing them with resources, as well.”
Legislation has been introduced to target the targeting of youth with flavored e-cigarette and cigar products.
Bills introduced by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (“Stopping Appealing Flavors in E-Cigarettes for Kids Act” (SAFE Kids Act, S. 655) and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado (H.R. 1498) are currently up for debate in the two chambers.
Hastings Public Schools has an anti-vaping policy in place prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes on school grounds.
Schneider said the district will continue its grass-roots campaign to educate adults and children on the dangers of vaping and encouraged all residents to take an active role in the movement.
“This is a topic that it takes a community to really help with and we certainly as a school need to play a large role in that,” he said.