New non-smoking signs at Chatham County Schools part of wider anti-vaping push

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/6/19

As use of e-cigarettes and electronic vapor products rise among teens both in Chatham County and across the country, Chatham County Schools, in partnership with the county’s Public Health …

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New non-smoking signs at Chatham County Schools part of wider anti-vaping push

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As use of e-cigarettes and electronic vapor products rise among teens both in Chatham County and across the country, Chatham County Schools, in partnership with the county’s Public Health Department, have made a small change on school campuses they hope will curb use.

Starting this year, the required non-smoking signs on campuses will include symbols for e-cigarettes and vaping devices.

Anna Stormzand, health promotion coordinator with Chatham County, said public schools across North Carolina have been required to post notices that schools are tobacco-free zones, but the rise of electronic vapor use has precipitated an adjustment.

“Many students and adults do not realize that electronic cigarettes, or any similar vapor products, are considered a tobacco product and their use is prohibited under this policy,” Stormzand said. “These signs are there to make students, staff and the public aware of the complete ban of the use of these products on school grounds.”

Both the county health department and the school system have made e-cigarette and vapor use a target of awareness and prevention efforts. According to the 2017 Chatham County Youth Risk Behavior Survey — which queried nearly 1,000 public and public charter high school students in the county — 46 percent of Chatham high schoolers reported using an electronic vapor product at least once and 22.4 percent reported using the product within the last 30 days.

Stormzand said electronic cigarette usage has been an issue for public health agencies since the late 2000s, but the Chatham County Public Health Department began focusing more on the topic in 2014. The school district’s Student Health Advisory Council began collaborating with the health department in 2016 on a student-led campaign to help “spread the word about the potential harms of e-cigarette products among their peers,” she added, and the SHAC will “continue to review effective and evidence-based ways to address e-cigarette prevention and cessation this fall semester.”

The change comes as two developments on the electronic vapor front have taken place on the state level.

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced last month that it was investigating reports of severe lung disease after vaping. The department reported three hospitalizations in connection with vaping use and added that similar cases have happened in other states, such as Wisconsin, Illionis, California and Minnesota.

“Although no infectious causes have been identified in this investigation, symptoms are similar to pneumonia caused by bacterial or viral infections,” the news release stated. “The severity of the disease has varied among patients, with some requiring treatment in the intensive care unit and assistance to breathe.”

The release added that “no specific brand name or source” was identified as the cause of illness, but State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Tilson encouraged all North Carolinians “to avoid vaping product and e-cigarettes.”

Additionally, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein announced late last month that he had filed lawsuits against eight e-cigarette companies, alleging that the companies were “aggressively targeting children and do not require appropriate age verification when selling these dangerous and addictive products.” Stein filed similar litigation against Juul, one of the largest vapor product manufacturers, in May.

“Our complaints allege that these eight e-cig companies are helping to fuel an epidemic of vaping among high school and middle school students,” Stein said in a press release. “One look at their marketing materials demonstrates just how egregious their sales tactics are — with flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, unicorn, and graham cracker, they’re clearly targeting young people. To teenagers, the health and addiction risks of vaping are simply too high.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high school students that had smoked cigarettes within the last month dropped by almost half from 2011 to 2018, but during the same time span, electronic cigarette use increased eight-fold among middle schoolers and by 19 percentage points among high schoolers.

Stormzand said the county’s public health department will continue to work with the public school system in light of these statistics and potential health consequences, and the signs are just part of the fight.

“While the signs alone may not completely stop the use of tobacco on school grounds,” she said, “they are an important tool to increase awareness of the fact that school campuses are required to be 100 percent tobacco-free for the well-being of students and staff.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com

Previous coverage: Not quite a Juul: Local orgs tackling spread of youth vaping

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