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High school working to secure funds for program to teach about dangers of vaping and help students battle addiction

To combat youth vaping, Crook County High School leaders are hoping to implement a new cessation curriculum and make other changes to monitor student activity.

Jason Ritter, the high school's student service coordinator, approached the Prineville City Council last month in search of some support and financial assistance. He pointed out that one out of three students nationwide have experimented with vaping in the past year. He added that vaping has caused 2,300 hospitalizations in the past year and 43 deaths from acute pulmonary failure.

"Vaping is impacting young people in really devastating ways," Ritter said. "It is something that is very difficult to manage, so we are working very hard to play catch-up in this area." Vaping has exploded in Crook County High School and in other schools across the country. Ritter said so far this school year, about two students per week are getting caught with vaping devices, and he is convinced those numbers are only scratching the surface. "When we speak to those students who are willing to talk to us about the situation, they believe that easily half of their friends are regular users of vaping devices," he said.

People vape by breathing through electronic cigarettes or vape pens that heat liquid to create a vapor. That liquid can contain nicotine, THC and other ingredients such as flavorings. The industry has been criticized for promoting sweet-flavored products that appeal to children, such as bubble gum and creme brulee flavors.

What is driving the explosion of vaping in local schools is not known, but Ritter believes that the marketing campaigns behind e-cigarettes and vaping devices may have given students the impression that it was a safer alternative than traditional tobacco use.

"We want to implement some changes, and we want to provide some support for our young people," Ritter told the City Council. "We walk up into the bathrooms in between classes when many students will take their vaping breaks. There are no cameras in bathrooms, so those tend to be safer places."

But more help is needed, and school leaders want to make some purchases and employ other tactics to reduce the frequency of vaping and support students who are already addicted. Ideas include installation of vape detectors in the restrooms and creation of a student-based vaping cessation group where students can meet face-to-face or communicate by text.

"There is data that shows that that works very well," Ritter said. "We have students requesting that of us."

In addition, school leaders want to purchase a vaping cessation curriculum, so that when students get caught, they will receive more than a punishment for their actions. Ritter said he wants to educate students and allow them to see and understand what they are doing to their bodies and their minds.

Such programs have already received some financial support. Ritter said that one local citizen donated $500, and Superintendent Sara Johnson committed to budgeting $1,000. Those contributions left a $3,500 need, which the City Council helped fill with a $1,000 pledge.

"Being a teacher, I see the problem," said Councilor Jeff Papke, who works at Mountain View High School. "I think they have a very well laid-out plan."

Councilor Gail Merritt added that the local youth is "a pretty important piece of our community."

"I think vaping is a huge problem, and something needs to be done about it," she said.

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