AUSTIN (Nexstar) — School leaders in Texas are addressing the rise in e-cigarette and vaping product use by teens by aiming to create awareness among young people.
The Texas Parent Teacher Association organized the panel discussion at the state Capitol in collaboration with the American Heart Association on Tuesday.
Dubbed “Straight Talk: A Matter of Life and Breath,” the conversation included health professionals, a former lawmaker, school leaders, parents and students who have been affected.
“I was in national honors society, I was active in sports, I was an overall good kid, so no one would suspect me to be vaping, but I was,” Anna Carey, 17, of Fort Worth, said. “Don’t count your kid out.”
Kellen Kruk, now a sophomore at Texas State University, was a leading youth advocate in the effort to raise the age to buy tobacco in Texas, Senate Bill 21.
“High schoolers are graduating with not only a high school diploma, but also a degree in addiction to nicotine,” Kruk said.
“The biggest reason I am in tobacco prevention is to see my friends and family not die from this terrible epidemic,” Kruk said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68 people have died in 28 states, including four in Texas, that have been tied to health-related issues stemming from e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injuries (EVALI). More than 2,800 people have been hospitalized nationwide. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 250 people with lung injuries tied to vaping in the state.
Richardson ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone, said in the first 120 days of school, the district has seen nearly 170 incidents of vaping. Last week, the district caught second graders vaping in a bathroom, Stone said, marking the fourth time Richardson ISD had caught elementary students vaping on campus.
“They’d gotten easy access to it and they were attracted to it because it tasted like apple and told their principal it tasted really good,” she said.
Stone said administrators learned of the incident when an older student walked into the bathroom and found the younger kids sharing it around.
“They had had it in class, it looked like a USB drive,” she said.
The parents on the panel pushed for schools to add curriculum on the hazards of using e-cigarettes, and the different forms the devices can come in. Some are made to look like flash drives, even highlighter markers.
“I want to get a district-wide curriculum in place,” Tricia Vasquez, a mother of three and a member of the Monterey High School PTA in Lubbock ISD, said.
Vasquez found a vape pen in her daughter’s backpack.
“The vape she had was purchased at school, from a friend,” Vasquez said. “Parents just don’t know that it’s going on. They don’t know that it’s so easy to hide. They’re not familiar with what the devices look like.”
She advocates for peer-to-peer education.
“This is a big deal, yes it is harmful,” she said.
“When I go back, I want to get on the agenda for the Lubbock ISD,” she explained. “So that we can get our students and our parents educated on a regular basis all the time, every year, ongoing.”
Watch the entire event below from the Texas PTA:
The list of scheduled panelists provided by the Texas PTA included:
- Samantha Boy is an advocate and ambassador against vaping and e-cigarettes. Ms. Boy first got involved in this issue after her young daughter became addicted to JUUL. As a member of the Texas Chapter of Parents Against Vaping, Ms. Boy testified in the Texas Senate hearing in favor of SB 21, as well as attended the federal hearing on e-cigarettes in Washington, D.C. Ms. Boy is an ambassador of the Catch My Breath vaping prevention program and a board member of Enough Inc., a non-profit aimed at eliminating youth nicotine use.
- Anna Carey is a student in Fort Worth. A former athlete, she started vaping as a freshman in high school. Following a medical crisis related to her vaping habit, she now volunteers to speak to groups about her experience. She hopes to help other students get accurate information about vaping so that they feel better able to resist peer pressure to vape, and to help parents recognize the signs if their child is vaping, talk to their child about the health risks of vaping, and help them quit.
- Kellen Kruk is a sophomore at Texas State University, pursuing a degree in Political Science with a minor in Journalism. He is a Teen Ambassador for the statewide tobacco prevention program, ‘Say What!’. In 2019, Kruk received the Regional Youth Advocate of the Year Award from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He was also the leader of the ‘Texas 21 Youth Coalition’ and testified in the House and Senate in favor of raising the age to buy tobacco in Texas. Kellen is a passionate advocate for tobacco prevention and plans to continue advocating through college.
- Shelby Massey is The American Heart Association’s Government Relations Director for Texas. She works on policies at the state and local levels aimed at improving the cardiovascular health of all Texans, which focuses on reducing tobacco use, healthy eating and active living, and access to care.
- Dr. Maria Monge is Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UT Dell Medical School.
- Jennifer Steele is the Associate Director for the Tobacco Prevention and Enforcement Division at Texas State University’s Texas School Safety Center where she oversees the statewide youth tobacco prevention program Say What! (Students, Adults, and Youth Working Hard Against Tobacco!) Jennifer also manages multiple tobacco surveillance and enforcement programs for the state.
- Dr. Jeannie Stone was appointed Superintendent in Richardson ISD in 2017. She has been in Richardson for four years also serving in the roles of Deputy Superintendent, Acting Superintendent, and Interim Superintendent. Dr. Stone was recognized with the 2017 “Superintendent of the Year” award by the Texas Educational Support Staff Association, the 2018 “Outstanding Educator” award by Altrusa International, and the 2019 “Superintendent of the Year” award by Texas PTA.
- Tricia Vasquez has worked in radio broadcasting and education. After moving to West Texas in 2001, she continued to teach and ultimately landed in the software industry as a curriculum developer for Tyler Technologies. Tricia serves as awards chair on the Monterey High School PTA Board. Most recently, Tricia developed and delivered a presentation entitled Teen Vaping: Reaching Generation Z, sponsored by the Monterey PTA. She is the proud wife of Vince, mother of Caleb and Emma, and stepmother of Vance.
- John M. Zerwas, M.D., joined The University of Texas System as Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs in October 2019. He provides oversight and guidance for the six UT System health institutions, one of the largest networks of academic health institutions in the country. Prior to joining U. T. System, Dr. Zerwas served fourteen years in the Texas House of Representatives. In 2019, Dr. Zerwas passed legislation to raise the age to purchase and use tobacco products to 21.