Collier County says vaping offenses up 300% in schools

The vaping epidemic is hitting our schools, and our teens are at risk. A local health agency is trying change that. We looked at how county and state officials are stopping teenagers from using these habit-forming products.

The effort has been sparked in Southwest Florida after numbers released show tobacco-related offenses in local, county schools have more than tripled in the past two year.

Collier County Health Department released new data confirming tobacco-related offenses spiked 300 percent between 2017 and 2018 in its public schools.

“About 25 percent of high schoolers are using vaping products,” said Nina Garcia with tobacco prevention in Collier County.

Officials in both Collier and Lee County fear teens believe vaping is safer than smoking, but Garcia said that is not definitive. Garcia believes e-cigarettes suck kids in with attractive flavors, and she is fearful about the lack of research that has gone into the overall health effects of vaping.

“The students don’t feel like there is any harm to it,” Garcia said. “But we are here to tell them that those flavors mask the harmful chemicals.”

The water vapor used in e-cigarettes usually contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. And we know nicotine can impact both brain development in teenagers and cause lung problems.

“Anything inhaled from an aerosol is not great for your lungs,” Garcia said.

The School District of Collier County said the 2019 numbers are not official, but they have soared higher than what was recently publish from the two previous years.

After her visit to Collier, we spoke to Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, asking her what the state can do to help.

“We are also looking at one of the ways to promote healthy behaviors,” Nunez said. “And that really talks to the education component.”

Vape pens, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products are prohibited on school campuses. If a student is caught with one of these devices at a school, it will be confiscated. And that student could face suspension.

In Lee County, some schools added special safety and security attendants who, as part of their job, look out for teens who are vaping.

Collier County Public Schools sent warnings to parents about e-cigarettes to educate kids about dangers of vaping before they start.

“We have prevention in schools,” Garcia said. “It’s basically a program for sixth through ninth graders to educate them on what vaping really is and what the concerns would be.”

Reporter:Janae Muchmore
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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