Dangers of children vaping highlighted by recent incident at Interlachen High School

INTERLACHEN, Fla. – A scary incident at Interlachen High School is putting a spotlight on a growing vaping problem across the U.S. involving kids.

News4JAX has learned that last Friday, two junior high students at Interlachen High School were taken to the hospital after becoming ill from vaping.

According to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, a student was found laying on the floor of a girl’s bathroom. The student was conscious but not alert. The sick student was taken to UF Health Pediatric Hospital in Gainesville to be medically evaluated. Moments later, a school faculty member called for help when another student had become ill. Investigators say the second student was on her knees and said she felt like she was going to pass out. The second student was taken to HCA Florida Hospital in Palatka where she started having seizures.

An investigation revealed the two students who were taken to the hospital had been vaping with several other students in the same bathroom prior to getting sick. All the students who were questioned by the school resource officer admitted vaping inside the bathroom. They were all under 18 which is the legal age to purchase and use a vape. According to investigators, all the students involved were also searched by a school administrator. The search turned up three different flavored vapes.

One of the students reportedly told the resource officer her friend who is over 21 purchased the vape from a vape store in Interlachen.

A student also reportedly demonstrated to the resource officer how to alter or add more nicotine to the vape. According to the Sheriff’s Office, that student said she only puts more nicotine juice into the vape and does not put CBD or THC oil into the vape.

The investigation further revealed some students placed their vapes in the ceiling of one of the girl’s bathrooms. A search of the bathroom led to the discovery of a vape hidden inside the ceiling.

What happened at Interlachen High School is an example of what’s happening across the U.S.

News4JAX reached out to Dr. Randy Thornton of Jacksonville Pediatrics and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. He says kids showing up in the emergency room after vaping has become a common occurrence.

“It’s nationwide. And it’s sad and tragic what we’ve seen over the past few years; a dramatic rise in lung injuries,” said Dr. Thornton.

When minors who vape show up at the emergency room, there are certain symptoms doctors immediately pick up on. Symptoms that may mimic other illnesses such as asthma and COVID.

“Usually, it’s lung related. It’s coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and trouble keeping up with your friends,” said Dr. Thornton.

He said when other illnesses have been ruled out, doctors are put in a position of asking a question about vaping that may be uncomfortable for a child to answer with their parents in the same room.

“Sometimes we must let the parents go out of the room and we will talk to the kids by themselves. And that’s many times how we find out,” said Dr. Thornton.

The Centers for Disease Control said vaping can be dangerous to kids, especially while their bodies are still developing. According to the CDC:

  • Kids who start using vapes as a social experiment can become addicted to the vapes.
  • Studies show that the use of e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes by kids can lead to mental health problems like depression.
  • Kids who use e-cigarettes can develop long-term lung problems.
  • Children have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing, or absorbing e-cigarette liquid through their skin or eyes.

“What we’re seeing is kids getting this stuff from friends and schoolmates. They try it without knowing exactly what’s in it. We know they have nicotine and they’re flavored for kids, so they try them. And they think it’s really cool to do without realizing the danger,” said Dr. Thornton who brought up another concern about kids experimenting with vapes.

“And then it’s also the ones they create themselves with marijuana. The THC additive can be really dangerous to their lungs. There are all kinds of cases of children being admitted to the hospital with lung damage with the marijuana-containing e-cigarettes,” said Dr. Thornton who was then asked if the lung damage is permanent. “It is. From everything I’ve seen, the kids don’t recover from that. It’s treatable, but everything I’m seeing appears to be permanent.”

Dr. Thornton brought up the issue of psychological health issues that arise from vaping at a young age.

“These young developing brains, when they are exposed to repeated amounts of nicotine can lead to anxiety, depression, attention problems, and all kinds of mood development disorders,” said Dr. Thornton.

In the wake of the two Interlachen kids being sent to the hospital after vaping, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and Wolfson Children’s Hospital are urging all parents to have a serious conversation with their kids about the dangers of smoking.

“We do not want to see a repeat of Friday’s incident, but we need parent and caregiver involvement. Search your child’s backpack and be aware of unusual behavior like disappearing to public bathrooms for an extended period of time or opening bedroom windows despite having air conditioning, mood, or behavior changes,” said the Putnam County Public Information Officer in a news release.

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