SPECIAL REPORT: Calcasieu schools have seen an increase in vaping on campus

SPECIAL REPORT: Calcasieu schools have seen an increase in vaping on campus

CALCASIEU PARISH, La. (KPLC) - 15% of e-cigarette, or vaping product use associated lung injury, or EVALI cases, are people under 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With that, are local high schools seeing an increase of vape use on campus?

“I know kids are doing it, they’re starting, because they think it’s cool. By the time they realize it’s not cool, it’s too late," Barbe High School Assistant Principal, Terry Leger, said.

From the 2017-2018 school year to the 2018-2019 school year, Calcasieu Parish schools saw an increase in discipline numbers related to tobacco use, including smoking and vaping.

“They’re designing them to look like jump drives or pencils where the kids are having them in the classroom. If a teacher doesn’t know, it could be plugged into a computer and charging a Juul," Leger said.

The number of discipline cases more than doubled from 133 to 385. These numbers incluse all Calcasieu schools, but spokesperson for the district, Holly Holland, said the majority of them stem from the high schools. Below are the numbers provided by the Calcasieu Parish School Board, which reflect all smoking violations, including vaping/Juuling, possession of tobacco, lighter, matches and the use, distribution and selling of tobacco products.

Calcasieu Parish School Board numbers 2017-2018 cases 2018-2019 cases 2019-2020 cases
August 7 18 17
September 16 39 39
October 12 60 14 (partial month)
November 13 38
December 9 41
January 12 44
February 16 50
March 18 30
April 19 52
May 11 13
TOTAL 132 385

While this data isn’t limited to vaping incidents alone, Leger said the greater part of them are vaping related. At Barbe, disciplinary actions vary from student to student.

“Each case is dealt with on this individual basis. But a student who is a repeated offender, then yes, the consequence will increase with the steps and can ultimately lead to expulsion," Leger said.

Barbe isn’t the only school seeing the rise in vaping on their campus.

“We’ve seen the same kind of increase here this year. I think it’s a systemic problem. Not only here, but nationwide with teen vaping," Sulphur High School Principal David Pool said. He said he can’t remember the last time a student was caught with a traditional cigarette.

To curb vape use on campus, Pool said they’ve implemented a handful of different methods.

“We brought in a group and they shared with our teachers, faculty and staff, made them aware about vaping issues. We passed around some of the Juuls we have confiscated so teachers could see them because many of them had no idea what we were talking about or hadn’t seen them," Pool said.

Recently, Pool said they’ve started educating students once a week with PSAs during the morning announcements.

“Typically it’s been me doing it, and I’ve just given them facts and figures on the number of deaths this year related to vaping, lung illnesses — information about the levels of nicotine and how harmful and addictive it is to the teenage brain," Pool said.

Health professionals in the Lake Area echo his concerns.

“It definitely makes me sad because I know that this is preventable. I just hope we can continue to get the message out about the dangers associated with vaping and cigarette use," Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, Regional Medical Director for the Office of Public Health, said.

At Sulphur High School, students are immediately suspended if caught vaping — regardless if its their first offense. But, they aren’t just punished at the school level, they could face charges.

“Especially this year it’s increased tremendously, I guess because it’s popular now," Sergeant Stephen Arnold, school resource officer supervisor, said.

Each Calcasieu Parish middle and high school has a resource officer, or SRO. Calendar year 2018 saw 42 vaping incidents handled by SROs, while so far in 2019, they’ve seen 132.

“When a student is in possession of a Juul or vape or electronic smoking device, we will get in contact with a parent, a parent will arrive, we’ll go through our proceedings with the proceedings, the paperwork. We have a Miranda rights juvenile form we have to fill out and they’ll receive a misdemeanor summons.” butted to “The smoking device itself will be returned to the parent or guardian and the pods that come with the Juul will be submitted into evidence," Arnold said.

Arnold said it’s important to hold students accountable.

“Well, first of all, it’s against the law for a juvenile to possess any kind of tobacco products. We’ve been seeing every evening on the news how unhealthy it is, so, we just want to take a stand on that to prevent our youth from going down that road, down that path,"Arnold said.

At Barbe High School, the number of cases SROs handled more than doubled from 10 in 2018 to 22 in 2019. The Sheriff’s Office also saw a jump at Sulphur High School from three cases in 2018 to 23 in 2019.

“Be safe, be smart, take care of yourself. Tobacco products are targeting you and they’re trying to get you hooked, because they know if they hook you now, they’ll have you for years to come," Leger said.

As of the week of November 20, the CDC has reported 2,290 cases of EVAVLI and 47 deaths in 25 states and the District of Columbia. The Louisiana Department of Health has confirmed two cases here.

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