- Multiple states are reporting severe respiratory illnesses and fatalities linked with THC vaping products, according to press releases. On Friday, the Indiana State Health Department confirmed in a press conference the first vaping-related death in the state, joining at least three other states that have reported fatalities, including Minnesota, Illinois and Oregon.
- The state is currently investigating 30 cases and has confirmed 8 of them as vaping-related. According to the CDC, 450 cases have been reported in 33 states.
- Public health officials have warned that they are “seeing cases increase across the country” and say they have a “significant amount of confidence” that the reported cases are vaping-related. Officials say they are “actively investigating” the situation.
As vaping becomes increasingly popular among high-schoolers, so does concern about its health consequences. Originally introduced into the market as a harm-reduction alternative for adults addicted to nicotine, vaping has taken off as a common practice among teens, who are more likely to progress to using combustible cigarettes within a year of use.
According to Elizabeth D’Amico, a behavioral scientist and researcher at RAND Corporation, teens who use vaping products are not “just experimenting” and are actually more prone to becoming long-term users. About half of teens who use e-cigarettes continue to use one year later, and about 40% are found still using after two years.
D’Amico suggests schools adopt both preventative and interventionist approaches, including after-school programs and in-school instructional material that informs students on the consequences of vaping.
Both experts and school administrators agree strictly disciplinary measures, like afterschool detention and zero-tolerance policies, are ineffective without the right programs and curriculum material in place.
Schools can partner with local health organizations and state departments to allocate the funding and resources necessary for these programs. Some high schools, including in Illinois where a district recently sued Juul Labs for marketing to teenagers, conduct presentations for students and parents and are even partnering with middle schools to begin prevention efforts in their districts early.
The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) suggests hiring school nurses who can identify e-cigarette use early, support prevention education and provide a referral for treatment if necessary.
"School nurses assess for health conditions and make a referral to healthcare providers based on the severity of symptoms," NASN President Laurie Combe says. "So referral may include a visit with [a student's] primary health care provider or may require access to emergency services."
If a student is exhibiting respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms — including trouble breathing, coughing, nausea and vomiting — Combe says Emergency Medical Services (EMS) should be contacted immediately.