Editor's Note: The above video is a report on local vapor shops selling unflavored vaping juice and flavoring separately after the flavored vaping ban. Video of the press conference can be found at the bottom of the story.
SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane Public Schools held a press conference with health and educational leaders to discuss vaping-related issues in schools and communities and to announce a symposium happening on Nov. 21 about vaping.
The event, held at North Central High School at 11 a.m. on Thursday, featured speakers from Spokane Public Schools, a North Central junior, the Spokane Regional Health District and the Northeast Regional Educational Service District 101.
North Central High School Principal Steven Fisk started the conference by saying the school had to address the vaping issue, especially with the news surrounding the rise in vaping-related illnesses and deaths.
"This effort is really about the safety of our kids," he said.
The speakers mostly spoke about the prevalence of vaping in Spokane Public Schools. According to Spokane Regional Health District Public Health Officer Bob Lutz, the Washington Youth Health Survey, in which students anonymously answer health questions, about 30 percent of students indicated they vaped. In Spokane, that number rose to about 35 percent.
Lutz said the number of minors vaping nationwide is reported to be about 25 percent.
Brittany Campbell from ESD 101, which covers both small rural-area schools and large urban-area schools in Northeast Washington, said the problem happens at school regardless of size.
"We know the problem extends beyond Spokane County," she said.
Campbell said administrators, teachers and students are looking for solutions because "this is a new animal for us."
The usage of vaping in Spokane has risen dramatically, she said. From 2016 to 2018, survey results show that vaping nearly doubled among eighth graders and sixth graders. The same time period also saw usage among 10th graders go from 15 to 27 percent, and in 2018, about a third of high school seniors said they vaped in the last 30 days, Campbell said.
She referred to the results as "startling."
"I find it particularly startling that 14 percent of eighth graders that indicate they vape do not know what is in their vaping device," Campbell said.
Among youth who vape, nicotine is the most commonly vaped ingredient, followed by THC, then flavoring, she said.
The challenge to ending this? Students mostly get their products from social sources, and they are finding ways to hide their vaping, according to Campbell.
"Particularly, the challenges are the covert ways students are vaping across high school campuses," she said.
Efforts being made by schools to curb the problem include intervening with students caught vaping, referring students to cessation resources, identifying new ways students are hiding vaping products and partnering with local health groups on education efforts.
Kayla Eddy, a junior at North Central High School, is a member of the Wellness Tribe. She helps leads student efforts to end vaping, including having high school students visit kids and middle and elementary schools to educate them on vaping.
Eddy said she joined Wellness Tribe due to her family dealing with addiction issues and how she has seen it affect people.
"Addiction doesn't just impact one person, it impacts the whole family," Eddy said.
She said she thinks to get to the bottom of the problem, they need to find out "why these kids are choosing to vape."
Along with this press conference, the symposium later in the month and continued efforts to stop vaping in SPS schools, SPS Board of Directors President Sue Chapin said the school board has been talking about the issue at meetings.
The board has been learning more about vaping from concerned students, she said, and the board is working to understand the severity of the problem.
But Chapin said this goes well beyond the school and into the community.
"Vaping isn't just a school problem. It's a community problem and it requires a community solution," Chapin said.
Lutz shared similar sentiments, saying that the problem lies on both the students and the Spokane community.
"It's our collective responsibility to see that they have a healthy and safe life, both today and in the future," Lutz said.