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Thursday, February 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane schools schedule vaping symposium as health crisis deepens and Seattle sues Juul

Steve Fisk, principal at North Central High School, speaks during a press conference about vaping on Thursday. (Jim Allen/The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Fisk, principal at North Central High School, speaks during a press conference about vaping on Thursday. (Jim Allen/The Spokesman-Review)

For Kayla Eddy, the best thing about a Thursday anti-vaping news conference at North Central High School was the feeling that she wasn’t alone.

The NC junior told a crowd of educators and fellow students about her own family’s addictions.

“I’ve seen firsthand what addiction can do to families and users,” Eddy said. “But vaping isn’t about the drug, it’s about the person.”

As Spokane school officials wrestle with how to best discourage vaping by students, Seattle Public Schools filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against industry leaders Juul Labs and Altria Group.

The district wants money to pay for youth vaping prevention and cessation programs.

“There is no doubt that vaping is reaching epidemic proportions among teenagers, and we can’t just sit by while our students suffer the effects of being targeted by Juul,” Seattle schools Superintendent Denise Juneau said in a statement.

In Spokane, the school district is hosting a Nov. 21 symposium that will include educators, medical professionals and students on the subject.

“We want to encourage students, parents and community members to attend,” NC Principal Steve Fisk said in opening remarks. “This is the front line that we need to draw.”

There are 14 cases of lung injuries in Washington state that have been linked to vaping, and in September, Gov. Jay Inslee told the state Board of Health to make an emergency order banning the sale of flavored vape products across the state.

On Thursday, Juul pulled its mint flavored vape products off U.S. shelves. The decision follows the company’s October move to stop selling all fruity flavored products that were criticized as targeting young people.

Across the United States, vaping has become a top health crisis as 40 people have died and about 2,000 others have been injured, according to a Centers for Disease Control report published Thursday.

“Vaping isn’t just a school problem,” said Spokane Public Schools Board President Sue Chapin. “It’s a community problem, and it requires a community solution.”

Her comments were echoed by Brittany Campbell, the assistant director of student support services at ESD 101, which covers most of Eastern Washington, including some of the smallest school districts in the state. All of them struggle with vaping.

“We know the problem extends beyond Spokane County,” she said.

Campbell cited some startling numbers: That from 2016 to 2018, vaping nearly doubled among the state’s sixth- and eighth-graders; that use by high school sophomores almost doubled during that time period; and that one-third of high school seniors admitted to vaping in the previous 30 days.

Campbell also emphasized that the vaping problem is worse in Eastern Washington than in the state at large.

“I find it particularly startling that 14% of eighth-graders that indicate they vape do not know what is in their vaping device,” Campbell said.

Those health worries are perhaps the biggest reason to educate the public, said Bob Lutz, public health officer with the Spokane Regional Health District.

“This effort is really about the safety of our kids,” Lutz said. “It’s our collective responsibility to see that they have a healthy and safe life, both today and in the future.”

Those were comforting words for Eddy, who is president of Wellness Tribe at NC. As such, she leads student efforts to curtail vaping – even organizing educational visits to middle and elementary schools.

“We’ve been working alone on this for a long time, it feels good to finally be acknowledged,” Eddy said.

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