Vape epidemic, FDA sees increase in student usage
BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — As students in Hernando County return for the second day of school after spring break and others across the Tampa Bay area are still on vacation, district leaders are working to address vaping in schools.
It’s a popular trend the Food and Drug Administration calls an epidemic. It reports more than 3 million teens are vaping nationwide.
School leaders in Hernando County say they’ve seen a drastic rise in cases compared to last year. There’s a concern the consequences they’ve put in place, to curb the problem, aren’t working.
“Kids are getting arrested, they’re compromising their ability to stay in school. They’re compromising their ability to maintain an adequate record, so all of these things are on the line,” said drug abuse counselor Janice Smith.
10News was told it’s not just an issue in high schools but in middle schools as well. Some of the students in middle school are as young as 11 years old.
In Hernando County, they’ve had 266 vaping cases just this school year alone. That is a 128 percent rise in cases. It’s why local leaders are working to come up with a new plan to stop it.
We’re told students are vaping everything from Juul – which has flavored tobacco – to THC, which many students call “weed pens.”
E-cigarettes or vaping of any type will get students suspended from school. If they’re caught with a pen with THC in it, teachers say students can get expelled from school, arrested and charged with a felony.
“Generally, they’re required to do drug counseling, and also possibly community service, and possibly a fine,” Linda Prescott said. “They’re also expelled, so their only choice would be to do school online here in Hernando, or to move and go to another school district.”
To curb this problem, Hernando County School Board members are working with local advocacy groups and students to create a series of town hall meetings to educate students and parents about the dangers.
The sheriff is also working to get the word out posting videos on social media warning students of the consequences.
So far this year, nine students in Hernando have been charged with felonies for vaping. The first town hall meeting will be scheduled sometime after the next school board meeting set for April 2.
In Tallahassee, some state leaders are pushing to raise the minimum wage from 18 to 21 for Floridians to possess tobacco or vaping products. The Senate Health Policy Committee voted in favor of the measure Monday. The bill now moves to a pair of other Senate committees.