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With Schools Reopening And COVID-19 Spreading, American Lung Association Targets Teen Vaping

Julien Lavandier of Colorado holds his Juul up for inspection. He started vaping in high school and has struggled to quit.
Jon Daley/CPR News
Julien Lavandier of Colorado holds his Juul up for inspection. He started vaping in high school and has struggled to quit.

Teen vaping was already risky, but with COVID-19, it’s even more dangerous.

When people use e-cigarettes, they exhale vapor into the air. If they have COVID-19, those clouds of vapor will be laden with the virus. Young people often also share vape pens, which could spread the coronavirus, as well.

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To combat a snowballing crisis as schools reopen across the state and nation, the American Lung Association recently announced a plan to end teen vaping that includes working with schools, policymakers and researchers in South Florida.

More than a quarter of Florida high school students have vaped in the last year, according to state data.

“That's a large number of people that are likely to, unfortunately, backslide into becoming full-on cigarette smokers in later young adult life,” said Keith Robinson, a South Florida pulmonologist and a board member for the American Lung Association.

The group’s campaign includes a $2 million investment into research on how vaping affects developing lungs, and local researchers are eligible to apply for the grants.

Robinson said he has seen that lung damage in kids first-hand.

“When they have motor vehicle accidents, we can see on CT scans of their chest some evidence of smoking related lung injury, only to find that many of those injuries are due to vaping and not cigarette smoke,” he said.

The campaign also includes a public service announcement video and website encouraging parents to talk to their kids about vaping, as well as advocacy efforts aimed at changing policies at the local, state and national levels.

For example, the group is pushing school districts to adopt counseling and substance abuse treatment as an alternative to suspension for students caught smoking or vaping at school.

Suspensions are punitive, Robinson argued, but counseling might actually help teens stop using e-cigarettes.

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Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.