Dire CDC warnings prompt vaping response

Posted 9/11/19

When vaping was initially introduced, it was presented not only as a safer alternative to smoking, but also as a potential means to kick the habit, and with the variety of sweet-tasting flavors of vapor it offered, it was easy to forget it contained nicotine at all.

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Dire CDC warnings prompt vaping response


When vaping was initially introduced, it was presented not only as a safer alternative to smoking, but also as a potential means to kick the habit, and with the variety of sweet-tasting flavors of vapor it offered, it was easy to forget it contained nicotine at all.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Sept. 6 that the number of possible cases of severe respiratory illnesses among people who vaped nicotine or cannabis-related products has more than doubled, to 450 in 33 states, which led the CDC to suggest people should avoid using e-cigarettes.

Jefferson County schools were already conscious of vaping as an issue before the CDC’s report was released, and The Leader discussed with school and county officials how they’ve taken preventative measures to respond to vaping among students.


Quilcene School Principal Sean Moss told The Leader that his school district does not currently have any additional procedures written for vaping.

“Like schools across the country, vaping among our students continues to be a concern,” Moss said. “However, specific cases where students are caught vaping during the school day are not a normal occurrence.”

Because Moss and his colleagues at the Quilcene School see their primary purpose as being educators, their strategy is to be proactive in educating their students to make informed decisions.

“When students are caught vaping, we focus our actions on how best to enable students to make decisions that will empower themselves going forward,” said Moss, who pointed out that his and his fellow school staff members are all too aware that the students are only on campus a small fraction of their overall time.

One specific tool the Quilcene School has used recently is its relationship with Jefferson County Public Health. Toward the end of last year, JCPH personnel visited the Quilcene School, and led its students through a lab, informing them of the many negative consequences that come with vaping.


Port Townsend High School Principal Carrie Ehrhardt also credited Jefferson County Public Health — and in particular its community health educator, Karen Obermeyer — with being “a great partner to the high school” in raising awareness among students, parents, staff and the school board about the dangers of teenage vaping.

“Karen and I began this discussion in the spring of 2018, as we were concerned about the use of vape among PTHS teens,” Ehrhardt said. “We put together a presentation for the school board at their meeting on Aug. 16, 2018.”

Ehrhardt described the shared philosophy of PTHS, which is “supported by” JCPH, as follows:

1. Set clear expectations for students about not vaping. “We are addressing the dangers of vaping in health classes, and through public service announcements we run throughout the year,” Ehrhardt said.

2. Keep kids who are caught vaping in school, by using other forms of discipline, instead of suspension, as much as possible. “A student caught vaping, for a first offense, would be sent to the nurse for education about the dangers of vaping, and we would provide informational resources to the parents of that student about the dangers of vaping,” Ehrhardt said. “Only in an extreme circumstances would we suspend a student for vaping.”

3. Provide support for students through the school’s health clinic, and its prevention intervention specialist, to stop vaping, as well as to work on breaking their addiction to nicotine.

4. Provide education to parents on the dangers of vaping. “Karen at JCPH has provided informational handouts and fliers that are offered at school, and are included in our newsletters.”

Ehrhardt reported PTHS had 12 incidents of students caught vaping on campus during the 2018-19 school year.


Chimacum School District Superintendent Rick Thompson referred The Leader to Denise Banker, community prevention and wellness coordinator for Jefferson County Public Health, for further comment on the anti-vaping measures being conducted in his district.

“The same four-station lab we presented at Quilcene, for grades 6-12, was also held at Chimacum, for grades 9-12 plus the Pi Program, and at Blue Heron Middle School for Port Townsend students,” Banker said. “We covered the facts of vaping, including what’s actually in the e-liquid, how your brain becomes addicted to it, and how to be media-literate enough not to be manipulated by marketing.”

Banker noted that many teens don’t realize that e-liquid contains nicotine, much less that vaping delivers nicotine more deeply into their lungs than smoking.

Banker explained that, for two years in a row, Chimacum teachers have received “training for trailers” through the “E-Cigarettes: Finding the Truth Among the Vapors” program.

“The Blue Heron teachers have also incorporated anti-vaping lessons into the classroom,” Banker said. “At each of these schools, the teachers have followed up and found the students were really buzzed and enthusiastic about what they’d learned.”

In one exhibit presented to students, their hands are placed in gloves and tied up in threads.

“They have to try and break out of the threads with the gloves on,” Banker said. “It’s a physical way of illustrating how difficult it is to break free of addiction, because it changes your brain chemistry.”

Lindsay Scalf, another community prevention and wellness coordinator for JCPH, described today’s students as “independent thinkers who respond better to being able to interact with facts, rather than being subjected to moralizing.”

Indeed, while Banker and Scalf cited data showing that nearly nine out of 10 adults who smoke started by the age of 18, that same data shows that student use of vapor is at 4%, compared to the 2% who use cigarettes or the 1% who use smokeless tobacco.

“The majority of teenagers are not vaping, either marijuana or tobacco,” Scalf said.

Banker added that a proposal is underway to change county ordinances, so that rules against smoking in public places would also prohibit vaping in those same places.

“If it were to succeed, Jefferson would be the 12th county in Washington state to add this restriction,” Banker said.

Banker praised the Port Townsend, Chimacum and Quilcene school districts for being “proactive in reaching out to us, and to their students,” in response to national news on this issue.

A free five-week workshop for parents and guardians of kids aged 9-14 is being held from 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays in October at the Chimacum Grange, at 9572 Rhody Drive, and Wednesdays in October at Jefferson County Public Health, at 615 Sheridan St.

To register for the Chimacum workshop, email Banker at dbanker@co.jefferson.wa.us.

To register for the Port Townsend workshop, email Scalf at lscalf@co.jefferson.wa.us.

Young people can access the new e-cigarette quit program by texting “DITCHJUUL” to 88709.


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