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Waging war on youth vaping

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Johnson County is one of many areas in a vaping crisis. E-cigarettes and vape pens are meant for adult use but user ages keep dropping. The compact size and light vapor make vapes far easier to hide and use without being noticed. Locally, there are reports of elementary-age students using vapes. Schools are on the front line dealing with this issue.

“We do have a huge issue with vapes,” said Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox. “Especially within the middle school and the high school, and we’re starting to see it at the elementary schools.”

That is why Johnson County decided to join hundreds of school districts nationwide in a lawsuit against vaping and e-cigarette companies. First District Lawyer Chris McCarthy shared the litigation information with Johnson County. This particular suit is against vape pen producer, Juul Labs, which several parties claim markets to youth and is disturbing learning environments. Juul claims it is an adult product and now asks anyone entering its website to confirm they are 21 or older.

“It’s scary to know what kids can do these days and not get caught,” Simcox said. “Vapes are very dangerous, and we try to educate our kids and help them know that. I don’t know if it’s peer pressure or if it’s the thing to do now, but vaping is now a big issue.”

A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition seems well aware of the vaping crisis and has included information in its education. In previous years, A.C.T.I.O.N. has asked students to participate in a photo contest explaining why they choose not to smoke in honor of Kick Butts Day, an annual date meant to promote stopping tobacco use. This year, the subject changed to include vaping and the age group dropped from high school students (14 to 18 year-olds) to middle school students (13 to 14 year-olds). Annual EMT data (Evaluation Management Training) shows that children and young adults are getting involved with substances in general at much younger ages than previously.

“We are hoping to add sixth-grade to the survey this year because we are seeing an increase in substance use in our students twelve and under,” A.C.T.I.O.N. Director Trish Burchette explained when giving the EMT data update this past September.

Johnson County is not pledging any funds or resources to this lawsuit. If the Tennessee case wins, Johnson County will receive some of the restitution money, which would go towards precautions such as vape sensors and possibly additional personnel to help curb the issue. If not, nothing different happens here.

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