County Health Officer ‘Floored’ by High Vaping Percentage Among Students

WBHS will use education and law enforcement to combat vaping increase

By Elise Marlett, Current Staff

Many teens at the West Bend High Schools appear to be part of what the Food and Drug Administration describes as a nationwide epidemic.

As reported by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered in April, the percentage of students who vape in Washington County is 15.6 percent higher than the percentage of students who vape across the state. Among students surveyed in Washington County, 27.2 percent have used an electronic vapor product, compared to the 11.6 percent of students who answered similarly statewide. That rate, more than double the state average, concerns both district administrators and county officials.

Amanda Wisth, the health officer of Ozaukee and Washington County, states that the drastic difference in percentage of vape usage in Washington County compared to the rest of the state is unusual.

“I was surprised by the e-cigarettes, the vaping percentage, actually how high it was,” Wisth said. “Compared to the state data, I was floored by that.”

Multiple students state that they have witnessed other students vaping on school grounds, often in bathrooms or in the parking lot, but sometimes in the middle of a class. Students frequently reference Juul, the name of an e-cigarette company that makes devices often designed to look like a harmless computer flash drive, except they contain electronic vapor.

“Last year a girl vaped right in the middle of class, but kind of hid behind her bag so it wouldn’t be as noticeable to the teacher and she never got caught,” East sophomore Maya Doedens said. “Just last week I saw a girl charging her Juul in the classroom right into the wall and my teacher did not even notice.”

East sophomore Grayson Pokrandt can remember students hiding vapes in their sleeves to breathe in while a teacher is not looking.

Despite these claims, East assistant principal Jennifer Johannsen states that this sort of behavior is not and will not be tolerated at the high schools. Currently, students who have been reported for the possession of an e-cigarette will be searched by the police. If the student is found to have an e-cigarette as suspected, they will be faced with a citation. The parents of the student are notified as well.

“The citation is anywhere between $124 and $155, depending on the age of the student,” Johannsen said. “That is for the first offense, it continues to rise if they would be caught again or if it was multiple occurrences.”

The citation is in place because it is illegal for an individual under the age of 18 to own or possess an electronic vapor product. To get around this law, teens often turn to friends or co-workers that meet the age requirements.

Johannsen speaks for all of administration when she says that the number of citations issued per year is increasing. In response to this rising trend of vaping within the high school, there has been an increase of police presence in school hallways and bathrooms.

West junior Noah Doedens believes that students choose to vape because they feel the need to impress their peers.

“They see others doing it and think it’s cool to do it,” Noah said. “I think it might also be a form of rebellion for some people and a way for them to be more independent.”

“I was surprised by the e-cigarettes, the vaping percentage, actually how high it was.”
– Amanda Wisth, county health officer

Maya Doedens agrees with her brother Noah in that peer influence is a large factor in why students choose to vape.

“It is sort of a peer pressure thing, there are many people doing it and then other students see these kids vaping, and they think that it would be cool to try and ‘fit in’ so they try it and do not want to stop,” Maya said.

The statistics gathered from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey are consistent with the vape trends across the rest of the nation. According to an infographic produced by Scholastic in partnership with the FDA, there has been a 78 percent increase in vaping among high schoolers in this year alone.

Sharon Kailas, the district’s pupil services director, thinks that because vaping is a relatively new concern, the first step is educating the public on the dangers of electronic vapor. She references the Youth Risk Behavior Survey results as being the basis of her efforts to educate the public.

“A lot of this focuses on vaping, that didn’t exist ten years ago,” Kailas said. “One of the concerns is that kids and some parents believe the same thing, that it’s not addictive just because it’s not a cigarette, so we have to educate people. This document is my first line of defense or first line of information so kids and families know the facts. Then I think they will ask for information and ask for education. I’m hoping that sparks that interest.”

Contrary to what many teens believe, vaping is addictive and dangerous. Vapes can contain hazardous chemicals and particles of toxic metal.

Wisth believes that e-cigarette use will decrease as more studies are published about the negative health effects of vaping. She compares this vape epidemic to past cigarette usage, where cigarettes were smoked by many teenagers until studies proved this to be unhealthy.

“It is tough because with e-cigarettes and vaping, there’s not a ton of studies like there are for cigarettes,” Wisth. “So even more data will help influence those people that it’s not a safe alternative. I think as a state and nationally, as we start to research these more and more, I think that the trend will follow cigarette use and the awareness of it and the use of it will decrease.”

To begin the education process, the high schools plan to use the lesson program “The Real Cost of Vaping,” developed by the FDA and Scholastic, to teach students about the dangers of electronic cigarettes.

(This article is part of an ongoing series of stories about the 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.)

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