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Hooked on Vaping: What KTAR News learned about e-cigarette use by teens

Only two years ago e-cigarettes were viewed as holding great potential for public health: offering a way to wean smokers off traditional cigarettes. But now vaping companies face an escalating backlash that threatens to sweep their products off the market. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

It’s a growing and dangerous trend among teens in Arizona: vaping.

More and more Arizona students are using electronic cigarettes, vape pen, pods and other types of vaping devices. They’re getting caught vaping in school and some are ending up in the hospital.

KTAR News 92.3 FM reporter Griselda Zetino went in-depth on how big of a problem vaping has become among Arizona teens through a four-part series called “Hooked on Vaping.” Here are the highlights:

Teen vaping on the rise at East Valley schools

The number of students getting caught with e-cigarettes and other vaping devices in school is on the rise as shown by discipline data KTAR News 92.3 FM obtained from several school districts in the East Valley.

The biggest annual jump occurred during the 2017-2018 school year, with some districts seeing their numbers double. Students are vaping in school bathrooms and even inside classrooms.

Mesa Public Schools, for example, saw its number of students getting disciplined for vaping more than doubled each year since 2016. Last school year, the district had 645 vaping-related violations.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing some of our violations as early as third and fourth grade,” said Michael Garcia, the district’s director of opportunity and achievement.

Almost half of Arizona kids have vaped by 12th grade

Teen vaping isn’t prevalent just in the East Valley. Almost half of Arizona’s students have vaped by the time they reach 12th grade, according to the statewide survey that shows the rapid rise of e-cigarette use in junior high and high school.

The Arizona Youth Survey is released every two years.

The most recent survey from 2018 found 27.7% of eighth graders reported they’ve used e-cigarettes or other vaping devices on one or more occasion. That figure was 39.3% for 10th graders and 45.8% for high school seniors.

Teens not getting message about dangers

While tobacco use has been declining among teens as they become aware of the dangers, health experts say that same message isn’t getting across for vaping.

They’re sounding the alarm on how vaping is damaging teens’ lungs and brains and how nicotine is getting young people addicted to e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.

More vaping product users are ending up in the hospital, including a 16-year-old girl from Phoenix who is on the mend.

She went into cardiac arrest and was in a coma when she was first hospitalized Oct. 8. Her mom said she had no idea her daughter had been vaping for two years.

How to prevent teen e-cigarette use

In the final part of the series, we explore the numerous solutions that have been proposed to address the growing trend of vaping among teens.

Several school administrators agreed “it really starts at home” with parents getting educated on what vaping is and letting their children know vaping “is not acceptable.”

They also said convenience stores and smoke shops need to stop selling vaping products to minors. Some states have tried to get rid of this problem by banning the sale of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.

“I don’t think a complete ban on e-cigarettes is going to be useful at this point, because kids are just going to get illegal products,” said Dustin Pardini, who worked on the Arizona Youth Survey. “That makes it even potentially more dangerous, because you don’t know what is going into them.”

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