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Pleasant Valley High School leaders concerned about teen vaping, focus on prevention

Teen vaping is a trend this local high school hopes to help fight off through education, conversation and consequence.

BETTENDORF, Iowa -  The principal of Pleasant Valley High School says vaping is one of the biggest health hazards teenagers face today.

That's why leaders in the school district are focusing on preventing the rise of the alarming trend.

School Resource Officer Jayme Fah says during the 2018/2019 school year, there was a 40% increase in vape cases on school grounds.

Those included incidents where teens were found using e-cigarettes (vapes) on school grounds or incidents where underage teens were caught with e-cigarettes on school grounds.

In Iowa, a person must be at least 18-years-old to legally possess and smoke vapes. However, across the United States, teens are becoming hooked on the products before their 18th birthday.

The devices come in all different shapes in sizes. Deputy Fah showed vapes that looked like USB thumb drives, battery chargers, pens and key chains.

The vape liquids, or vape pods, come in different flavors as well - from pancake to green apple.

Most of the time, those liquids are infused with nicotine, which is highly addictive.

That's a major concern among school leaders.

Fah said students as young as 10-years-old have been found on school grounds in the Pleasant Valley School District with vapes.

While consequences are important, leaders in the district say they're really focused on preventing the rise of the trend.

"We're really more concerned about, what does becoming addicted to nicotine at the age of 10 do to long term health effects for that child," said Fah.

That's why Pleasant Valley High School Darren Erickson said they're making more of an effort to crack down on the use of vapes among students.

"We've added into our student handbook specific consequences of what happens with possession, what happens with use, and we treat it as a tobacco-like product," Erickson said.

When teens are caught vaping at school, police get involved. The case is referred to the school resource officer who can issue tickets for underage possession and/or for using tobacco products in unauthorized spaces.

Parents are also notified and students can be suspended for up to three days when busted.

Erickson said that throughout the year, teachers, students, and families are also being taught about the potential health risks associated with these products.

"Our goal is to educate and then inform and help the kids understand why the choices that they`re making might not be the best choice," said Erickson.

The CDC warns that nicotine addiction can have negative impacts on adolescent brain development. The vape pens can also carry cancer-causing chemicals and have been linked to conditions such as popcorn lung.

"They set you up for addiction long-term down the road and that’s the bigger concern for us," said Fah.

Still, with consequences and preventative measures in place, cracking down on teen vaping is a challenge, leaders say.

"The convenience of them and the conceal-ability creates a challenge for us," said Principal Erickson who points to the fact that most vapes don't leave behind a lasting smell and can be concealed in several different ways.

Erickson said he hopes societies opinion on them will help fight off teen vaping.

"What I’m hoping is that as education starts catching up with the negative side effects, and adults start to realize what they are and what we are looking for, the tend will start looking down and it will start to lose its lust I think,"