YULEE, Fla. – Less than a month after the Nassau County School District reported alarming numbers of students as young as elementary school vaping, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody made a stop Thursday at Yulee High School to meet with Nassau County law enforcement officers and school officials to discuss the troublesome trend.
Nassau County ranks seventh out of all 67 Florida counties in the percentage of middle and high school students who vape, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Educators told Moody that vaping has become one of the most pressing and serious issues they have faced in their careers.
“To hear that this is the most pressing thing they have faced throughout their careers, I believe that is very significant and I think that is a wake-up call for all of us to see what we need to be doing as leaders in the state of Florida to address it,” Moody said.
A Fernandina Beach High School resource officer showed News4Jax a box full of more than 200 vaping devices confiscated throughout the 2018-19 school year.
Students at Yulee High School said it’s something that’s common on their campus, as well.
"I see a lot of kids, they go to the bathroom most of the time and just Juul. Sometimes they do it in the classroom, like, if the teacher is not looking in the back," said 14-year-old Adriana Caicedo, who is a rising Yulee High School sophomore.
When asked what percentage of her classmates she thinks use vaping devices, that student said, "Out of 100, I would say about 80%. People who I didn’t even think did it, they do … Even at school and a lot outside of school, too."
One thing students, law enforcement and educators agreed on is that more education is needed.
“One of the biggest struggles they have is that kids and parents don’t understand that this is an epidemic, that it is dangerous, that addiction to nicotine at such a young age can have an effect on a developing brain,” Moody said. "It’s not something that is harmless or just to be used to pass the time or look cool."
The state Department of Health reports nearly 1 in 4 Florida high school students will admit to either vaping or Juuling.
“It’s really not healthy. People think it’s not going to do anything to them, but they really don’t know the health effects,” said Reese Mumbauer, a rising Yulee High School sophomore. “It’s, like, as bad as cigarettes and people don’t understand that."
Moody said she will continue her fact-gathering mission across the state to learn how kids are learning about vaping, why they’re doing it and whether laws need to be changed moving forward.
The Nassau County School District reported 216 tobacco-related incidents this year in the school district, more than double the 98 incidents from the previous year. The district attributes that increase to the availability and use of vaping devices like Juul.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for teens. The products contain high levels of the addictive chemical nicotine. In fact, a single Juul pod packs about as much of a punch as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes.
Looking at the problem of teen vaping nationwide, a study conducted late last year found that 37% of all high school seniors said they had vaped in the last year. That's a dramatic increase from 27% the year before. It also found that more than 1 in 10 eighth graders said they vaped nicotine in the past year and overall vaping is up among eighth, 10th and 12th graders.
The group who conducted that survey went on to say that teens who vape are more at risk for eventually trying cigarettes.