Vaping public health crisis hits Roanoke County teens

‘That nicotine and that addiction is so strong in vulnerable brains’

A local school is seeing trends in vaping, which is called the next health crisis.

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Vaping has been called the next public health crisis for teens. It’s a problem across the country, commonwealth and even in Roanoke County.

Northside High School’s School Resource Officer Victoria Schmitt said she’s caught kids as young as 12 years old vaping.

“It’s very concerning,” said Schmitt. "That’s what was really eye-opening to me.”

She said the scary part is that you never really know exactly what’s in vape pens or pods or what they can do to a developing brain. Vape pens are also small, easy to hide and easy for kids to get their hands on.

“We know what smoking does long-term, generally. But vaping hasn’t been around very long," said Schmitt. "There haven’t been a lot of studies done. We don’t know what the long-term chemical exposure does.”

She said kids will typically go into school bathrooms and share a vape device, which is an added risk during the COVID-19 pandemic that can spread the virus and cause lung damage making you more susceptible.

According to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey published by the FDA and CDC, 19.6% of high school students and 4.7% of middle school students reported currently using e-cigarettes or other vaping products.

From 2019, the total number of U.S. kids and teens who vape dropped by 1.8 million to about 3.6 million. However, Nancy Hans who serves as the executive director of the Prevention Council of Roanoke County said that number is still too high.

“That nicotine and that addiction is so strong in vulnerable brains and that’s what we’re really concerned about," said Hans.

The Council’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2016 found that 18.6% of county high schoolers reported they had tried vaping at least once in the past 30 days. By 2018, it rose to 35.9%. It dropped to 24.8% in 2020.

In the 2016 survey, 11.8% of all middle schoolers reported trying vaping at least once in the past 30 days. That dropped to 7.6% in 2020.

Hans said vape pens are usually filled with tobacco and nicotine, which is an extremely addictive substance. But that’s not all. Formaldehyde and other toxic ingredients have been detected.

Kids can also vape alcohol and marijuana.

To combat the problem, the county is joining in on the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, Oct. 24, and asking families to turn in vape pens and talk with their kids about the risks of vaping.

“This is where we have to come together as a community and it starts at home," said Hans.

For more information about the Drug Take-Back event and locations across Southwest Virginia, click here.

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