MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) — As students head back to school, there’s a heightened concern about teen vaping.
This year, Mankato Area Public Schools is making sure students and parents know about the dangers of e-cigarettes.
Mankato East health and physical education teacher Mary Nelson said she began noticing the issue about three years ago.
“They would just have things in their pockets. And it would fall out,” Nelson said. “And one time I handed something right back to a kid and later on in the day I realized what it was. It wasn’t a flash drive.”
Nelson says all health teachers in the district are now adding vaping to the curriculum, from twelfth grade down to middle school.
“We need to hit it at that age, because we know that’s where kids are being exposed as well,” she said.
Several local schools are trying to educate students beyond curriculum, too.
Project for Teens, a student-led group that serves several area middle and high schools, produced a public service announcement last year on the dangers of vaping for students, starring some of their own peers.
Nelson says what also worries teachers is how quickly and widely the trend is growing.
That trend isn’t exclusive to local high schools; it’s happening across the country.
The FDA says 1 in 5 high school students in the U.S. used e-cigarettes in 2018. That’s 1.5 million more students than the year before.
And health officials say that’s troubling for many reasons, but especially because the average teenager’s brain is still forming. Nicotine can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse control.
And some health teachers say high school students just aren’t grasping that.
“They see it, but they don’t actually feel it,” Nelson said. “If when I started using something I noticed spots on my skin, they might stop. But these students, they don’t think long term, they don’t think past maybe the next hour or two, so they get their reaction, they get the satisfaction of using it, and they move on.”
Nelson hopes the education extends beyond the classrooms, noting parents can play an impactful role.
“Students tell us that all the time. ‘My parents don’t talk to me about this. My parents don’t talk to me about much.’ You need to have a conversation with your son or daughter, your student, about the consequences of using and abusing vaping,” she said.
And if there’s one thing she hopes students know, it’s that the habits they form now can last for years.
“This is a habit. We’re in that stage of life where we’re building habits. And we want to make sure we don’t have unhealthy habits that are going to affect us when we’re 25, 35, and beyond because those simple choices we make when we’re teenagers, can have some long term effects as adults.”
If a teen in your household is vaping, there are steps you can take. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a guide to help parents address vaping at home.