K-M fights vaping crisis
As of Nov. 5, 2,051 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) have been reported to CDC from 49 states (all except Alaska), the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition, the CDC says 39 deaths have been confirmed in 24 states and the District of Columbia.
Among 1,364 patients with data on age, 54% were 24 years old or younger.
Kasson-Mantorville School Resource Officer Jesse Kasel said he’s seen a marked increase in the prevalence of vaping products in the schools in the past few years.
“I’ve been a school resource officer for going on four years now, and in the first year there was a couple here and there, but now it’s definitely progressed to where it is getting to be quite the problem. Obviously, it’s national so it’s not unique here, and we’re definitely doing quite a bit of counter information,” he said.
To spread that counter information, he said they’re using a multi-faceted approach.
“I’ve been in quite a few classrooms teaching some stuff on my end, such as what happens with addiction and teen brain development working with Mr. Pocius [K-M special education teacher] here in the schools,” he said. “I was just in the eighth grade classroom a few days ago doing a presentation about vaping and I like to talk with kids and get their perspective on it. I’ll ask the students, ‘How many of you think it’s just water vapor coming out of them,’ and every class there’s a few kids that raise their hands saying it’s just water vapor. Then, I explain to them what’s actually in it so there’s a lot of misinformation.”
On top of that, Kasel also has to enforce the school’s no-vaping rules.
“Sometimes, I’ll have them do some research for me in lieu of being cited. Just so they have to go out and find the information themselves and bring it back to me and show me what they learned,” he said. “The school has consequences and then the sports league, the HVL (Hiawatha Valley League), has its own violations. Enforcement on its own isn’t going to fix the problem, we have to change the culture and get that education out there.”
One way he gets that education out there is through class presentations and he said students usually ask him about the negative health consequences.
“A lot of them [their questions] is what they [vapes] do to them as far as projected cancers,” he said. “It also depends on the speaker so being a law enforcement officer I get a lot of the legal questions such as are these actually illegal? I usually show them a little snap of what the statutes say and explain how it’s been adopted to cover e-cigarettes. If you’re under 18, possession or if you’re doing it inside of school, that’s the same as smoking on school property so you can be cited for that.”
Kasel also talks a little bit about the Tobacco 21 initiative and explaining the reasoning behind it.
“I’ve seen vaping products on middle schoolers and when you ask where they got it them, they say from high schoolers so Tobacco 21 is focused on getting them out of the hands of high schoolers,” he said.
One of the reasons law enforcement wants to get vaping products out of the hands of minors is preventing the negative health consequences, such as potentially dying.
On Oct. 16, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported that two Minnesotans passed away from vaping-related injuries in September. Gov. Tim Walz released the following statement in response:
“My heart is with the families, friends, and communities of these two Minnesotans. Seventy-three Minnesotans, who have experienced severe lung injury in this outbreak associated with vaping illegal THC over the past several months, is too many.
In addition to these dramatic injuries, we are concerned about the long-term health impacts of vaping. The Administration is launching an aggressive outreach campaign to ensure Minnesotans know the risks of vaping and putting together bold legislative policies to tackle this crisis head on. We must ensure Minnesotans have the information, support, and resources to fight back against those profiting at the expense of our health and well-being.”
Governor Walz is closely monitoring the vaping crisis and ongoing investigation. He received an in-depth briefing on these most recent developments from MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm and public health experts yesterday.
With vaping rates skyrocketing among young people, he has directed the commissioners of health and education to work together to launch an outreach campaign to provide school officials with information and resources to help as they struggle with vaping in schools. This includes conducting informational briefings across the state as well as other activities to get information to parents, students and health care providers to make sure people understand the risks of vaping.
This action builds on the departments’ previous work to prevent vaping through a variety of efforts, including a School e-cigarette Toolkit (PDF) that provides resources for school staff working to address the use of vaping products in schools.
Walz has also directed his administration to determine a set of bold 2020 policy options to combat vaping. The list of legislative options under consideration includes: raising the statewide legal age for tobacco to 21; prohibiting the internet sale of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vaping products; prohibiting the sale of all flavored nicotine and tobacco products; and providing authority for MDH to declare a public health emergency in critical situations such as this in the future.