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SPECIAL REPORT: SBUSD and health experts tackle vaping crisis

An all-out assault on vaping is happening right now on all fronts.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) is in the process of organizing an informational workshop, specifically geared for mom and dad.

Meantime, doctors and school administrators have their own message for parents.

“I would encourage all parents to get really educated about this as soon as possible,” said Dare Holdren, Assistant Principal at Dos Pueblos High School.

Holdren is considered the District’s go-to guy on vaping. He poured out a bag filled with vaping products and devices confiscated on campus while working as Dean of Students at San Marcos High School.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of teenage vaping,” Holdren said while divvying the devices up into piles. “All of this is nicotine.”

Tanks and mods, rechargeable e-cigarettes, Juuls.

“These things are called ‘badges,'” Holdren said. “This pops off, then you can put juice in. So easy to hide in your hand. Name a candy or a sugary cereal and there’s a flavor …. tropical mango, strawberry, Froot Loops, Trix.”

Holdren said, in general, the ones with a cartridge are THC, vape juice derived from cannabis.

“The percentage of THC in those vapes is anywhere between 85 and 95 percent,” Holdren explained. “Some people like to say you can’t get addicted to weed but I’ve seen a lot of kids that, if it’s not addiction I don’t know what else to call it.”

The most recent update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (*CDC: Oct. 17, 2019) confirm 33 deaths in 24 states linked to a lung disease associated with e-cigarettes or vaping products. According to the CDC, most patients report using a history of using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing products; the majority of the cases involved products obtained off the street or other informal sources (e.g. friends, family members, illicit dealers). (*Numbers released after this story was in final edit.)

A multi-state outbreak is currently being investigated. Nearly 1,479 cases in 49 states (all except Alaska) the District of Columbia, and 1 U.S. territory.

Health and medical experts say nicotine dependence is four times more addictive than heroin; children and teens who vape are most at risk.

“I think that’s one of the things that we have to combat is just making it less cool,” said Dr. Daniel Brennan, a pediatrician at Sansum Clinic.

Brennan said the topic of vaping used to come up once or twice a year. Now, it’s every day. He said he’s seeing a growing number of children under the age of 18 quickly becoming addicted, sometimes after taking fewer than a handful of hits.

“More concerns about anxiety, depression, moodiness, kids having more difficulty focusing at school,” Brennan said, referring to changes in behavior linked to vaping. “There can be some permanent changes that happen to their brain, really making them hooked on this stuff and really hard for them to get off of it.”

Brennan, who is a parent, said he often finds himself fielding all sort of questions from other parents.

“The thing that’s most shocking to me, and I didn’t believe it, were the number of kids actually smoking at school. Not just in the hallways but in the bathrooms, in their cars during period breaks, but IN the classroom.”

Chief Videographer Herb Tuyay and I ran into a handful of students on the campus of Dos Pueblos in off-hours and asked for their input on vaping.​​​​​​

“I think it’s not that great for you. I wouldn’t do it, personally. I don’t know why people do it,” said Charlotte, a sophomore.

“It does seem like a big problem at all the schools,” said Aiden, another sophomore. “It’s just nicotine and apparently heavy metals and it’s terrible for you. And now, teachers can’t even catch it because it’s a little hard drive-type thing.”

“Some people tell me that it’s worse than cigarettes,” said Charlie, a sophomore, who said she’s never vaped and has no interest in experimenting.

Another student, Michael, said as an athlete, he has no interest in vaping but does know people who do it regularly.

“I guess some of them, they do it to act tough. Others, they just do it because they’re stressed out and need something to calm themselves,” Michael said.

“I think it’s like a trend, they think they’re cool,” said Riley, a freshman. “They want to be cool and fit in but it’s not cool. It’s not good for you.”

Parents who’ve lived through the ’60s also have major concerns.

“I’m terrified. I’m horrified by the whole thing,” said Stephanie Trager. “I thought smoking pot and drinking were bad enough and that was a big thing when I was in high school. Kids don’t realize vaping is far, far worse.”

As for the students who do vape, Holdren said there is no, one specific group.

“All socio-economic backgrounds, different races, ethnicities, genders,” Holdren said.

The District has called it a ‘crisis.’

“Students will blow the vapor into their sweatshirt,” said Frann Wageneck, Assistant Superintendent, Student Services at SBUSD. “How do teachers look for that behavior while at the same time teaching trigonometry?”

Wageneck said SBUSD has implemented a whole new set of anti-vaping policies and educated teachers and staff over the past summer on what to look for. She explained that there is a specific consequence for students caught with tobacco products or paraphernalia.

“We actually have created an assignment that they have to complete where they do some reading, they write an essay, and then they do a slide deck presentation to a group of adults, including their parents,” Wageneck said. “So, we’re really looking to educate students rather than punish them.”

Wageneck said a student caught with cannabis vape juice brings a mandatory five-day suspension. The District then digs deeper to see if there’s an underlying issue.

“It could be self medication, it could be an abuse issue or, it could be teenage curiosity. So, we really want to get to the root cause of the usage and help families address that.”

Holdren, Wageneck and Brennan all stressed that vaping products can be ordered online from Amazon.

“Until your kid is 18 and moved out of your house, I think it’s perfectly fair game to be looking into their stuff. And they might need to expect that,” Holdren said. “It might mean saving them from a lifelong addiction. For some of these kids, it’s going to be a rough ride.”

Wageneck said SBUSD is hosting a Vaping Information Event, geared for parents, on Tuesday, October 29. The one-hour event will be held at Washington Elementary School and is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.

For the latest CDC updates on the vaping crisis click here.

KEYT 2019

Health / Health Warnings / News / Santa Barbara- S County / Santa Maria - North County / Top Stories

KEYT News Team