LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – City and school officials are hoping to curb the use of electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-based vaping products by Jefferson County Public Schools students through an awareness campaign launched Tuesday.
The initiative, dubbed Vaping Equals, aims to teach children about the health risks of vaping, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said during a news conference Tuesday. Posters will be placed in every middle and high school, and JCPS health classes will soon begin incorporating vaping education as part of its health programs, Pollio said.
It's a problem that has emerged in JCPS classrooms in recent years with flavored liquids clearly geared toward younger users, Pollio said.
"It is important that we bring awareness to this issue with our families and our students," he said. "We will be working with parents and community members so that we can raise awareness so families can have discussions with their children and talk about this important topic."
The anti-vaping push at JCPS comes on the heels of a similar initiative unveiled by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky on Monday that tries to convince children not to take up the habit through a series of videos. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced last week his plans to file legislation that would raise the national smoking age from 18 to 21.
During this year's legislative session, the General Assembly passed a law banning all tobacco products on school campuses, including e-cigarettes.
Bonnie Hackbarth, vice president of public affairs for the foundation, said her group worked with Kentucky Youth Advocates to hold roundtable discussions with kids in five high schools across the state, including one in JCPS. Participants indicated that vaping in their schools "is rampant," Hackbarth said.
"The kids told us as soon as a teacher's back is turned or a teacher leaves a classroom that e-cigarettes literally start flying across the room and kids are immediately starting to take vapes and hits," she said. "The school bathroom is now the Juul room." Juul is a popular e-cigarette brand.
Atherton High School Principal Tom Aberli, a high school administrator since 2001, said he's seen a surge in vaping among his students over the past 12 to 20 months and is growing "exponentially."
A pediatrician spoke to about 500 Atherton students last fall and discussed how addictive nicotine can be and the targeted marketing strategies employed by those who want to sell their vaping products to youth, he said.
"Frankly I think it's the adults who are learning now to understand the terminology, to understand these different tobacco nicotine delivery systems and the impact that they have on our children," Aberli said. "...We hope that our community will embrace the strategies that we're taking to bring awareness to deter our young adults from engaging in these behaviors."
Dr. Lori Caloia, medical director for Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness, called youth vaping a "public health crisis," noting that a 2016 surgeon general's report found that 38% of high schoolers have tried e-cigarettes at least once.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said without changing current trends, "nicotine addiction and tobacco use will dramatically shorten the lives of as many as 5.6 million of our children," Caloia said.
"This doesn't take a lot of deep science to know the harmful effects of everything related to nicotine, tobacco and vaping," Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. "Those days of arguments are hopefully long gone, and our job should be to eliminate as much of this as possible."
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