Jefferson County Public Schools launched a campaign Tuesday to educate middle and high school students on the dangers of vaping.
A little more than 14 percent of Kentucky high school students reported smoking traditional cigarettes in 2017, and about the same number reported vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As part of the Vaping Equals campaign, educational posters will be hung in all middle and high schools in the district. And health science classes will add lessons on the dangers of vaping, including strategies to detect marketing and how to say no. There’s currently no explicit requirement that schools teach students about the dangers of vaping.
Lori Caloia, the medical director at the Louisville Metro Department for Public Health and Wellness, said e-cigarettes and vaping devices often contain nicotine, which can be highly addictive. Caloia said vaping products sometimes serve as a gateway to tobacco cigarettes for young people.
“There’s a public health crisis forming if we don’t act now,” Caloia said. “The CDC projects that without a trajectory change, nicotine addiction and tobacco use will dramatically shorten the lives of as many as 5.6 million of our children alive today.”
Although vape pens are sometimes marketed as a way to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, there’s evidence that teens take up vaping without ever smoking a cigarette. But research shows teens who use e-cigarettes and other cigarette alternatives are nearly twice as likely to later smoke cigarettes than teens who never use those alternatives.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district banned vaping devices in schools years ago, but Vaping Equals will ramp up the effort to decrease the number of students who vape.
“It’s very clear from some of the flavors that are marketed, that this is directed straight towards youth and students,” Pollio said. “And so it is important that we bring awareness to this issue with our families and our students.”
Pollio said because vaping devices are small and don’t have the same odor as cigarettes, they are harder for teachers to detect.
Bonnie Hackbarth, vice president of external affairs at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said studies show many teens are vaping without their parent’s knowledge.
“Or their parents are under the false impression that it’s safe or that it’s safer than using cigarettes,” Hackbarth said. “For teens, that’s not the case. They are very, very dangerous. They contain high levels of nicotine.”
Kentucky lawmakers passed a measure this legislative session that bans vaping in schools, with enforcement left up to local school districts.