SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - As health officials continue to warn about vaping dangers, the importance has now taken on new urgency in recent weeks. According to the CDC, there have now been more than 1,800 lung injury cases and 37 deaths linked to vaping – thankfully, with only one of those fatalities in Florida.
However, what’s even scarier is that our schools are having to tackle this epidemic as well. In the last two years, the Manatee County School District has had 473 vaping incidents, while Sarasota County has had 569.
"It’s something that has been released wide spread to a whole bunch of people and unfortunately it’s never been accurately or clearly investigated and now we’re seeing all of these problems,” Dr. Paul Vesco, a cardio-thoracic surgeon at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, explained.
The number of cases continue to rise as a vaping illness blows its way across the country.
"I don't know if there's a correlation between the number of times you hit that pen, the length of time you hit that pen, the amount of time you heat it. Most of these heating elements are not very standardized, and so the problem is you really don't know what dose you're getting,” Dr. Vesco added.
Vaping was originally considered a safer way to deliver nicotine to smokers trying to quit, but with fruity flavors, they've taken schools by storm.
“Mostly in the high school, but then it started to spread into the middle school as well,” George Schrier, the Director of Student Services for the Manatee County School System, told us.
Schools have always provided education related to hookahs and tobacco, but the use of vaping and e-cigarettes is a whole new concept that has another level of danger.
"Remember, this little cartridge has as much nicotine in it as an entire pack of cigarettes so if a child is using two or three or four of these a day, the doses of nicotine that they're getting is reaching toxic levels,” Nurse Practitioner Amie Miller explained.
In a three-year period, Sarasota and Manatee County School Districts saw a 700% increase in kids caught vaping.
“But it was of course, something that was unfamiliar to everyone involved,” Schrier said.
“Also with our staff, who many are parents, as well, to know what these things even look like. There are some that look like a marker or a USB or a little animal, things like that,” Dr. Dawn Clayton, the Supervisor of Alternative Education for Sarasota County Schools, said.
So what are they doing now?
“We’ve since grown. We have a curriculum that we just developed that we’ll be getting out into the schools for students. We also have a substance abuse education for families where students and parents can go If they’ve been involved with vaping or first-time drug use to learn about the dangers,” said Schrier.
Manatee County and Sarasota County School Districts have began outreach and education programs to raise awareness about the dangers of vaping.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of work across our community because if students are vaping at school, they’re also vaping at home and other places throughout our community,” explained Dr. Clayton.
They've tried patrolling restrooms where kids often vape, updating the health class curriculum to provide more information and conducting seminars for parents and students.
“I think it’s going to take a longer time for our educational process for the students and the parents to get into place with them and actually have an effect. I think it will, but education takes time,” Schrier added.
Social media marketing has made vaping a trend, and students are doing it not because they necessarily want to smoke, but because, well, everyone is doing it. However, officials say with time, they hope the dangers will subside that fad.
“There are some that are more susceptible to risky behavior or even just to vaping, and as a community and as a school district it’s our job to collaborate with other organizations and professionals within this community to help children through these types of risky behaviors," Dr. Clayton explained.
Although it might not happen overnight, the school districts are confident it will.
“Zero vaping in schools… that’s the goal. That’s what’s going to happen. We’re not going to stop. We’ll continue with the educational process and preventative measures until we get that zero percent," said Schrier.
Both Manatee County and Sarasota County School Districts have all their educational tools on their websites available to parents and students at all times. Plus, they say they have no choice but to implement disciplinary actions at school in hopes to put an end to this epidemic as quickly as possible, but that it needs to start from home.