JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - School officials are fighting the vaping epidemic from the front lines.
“I’m sure there are a lot of parents that are really concerned out there,” said Michael Todd, principal at Greene County Tech Junior High School.
The concern continues to grow as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigates an outbreak of lung-related injuries connected to vaping.
Arkansas lawmakers are also taking note.
Back in September, President Pro Tempore Senator Jim Hendren released the draft of a new bill that would include vaping restrictions.
“The potential harm to our children’s health makes it imperative that we act with urgency,” Hendren said.
Region 8 News requested data from at least 11 area schools to gauge how big the problem is in Northeast Arkansas.
It found kids as young as 9 years old have been caught with vape products.
Nicole Townsend has an 8th grade daughter in the Brookland School District and knows she is exposed to vaping.
"There are so many unknowns with vaping and that's the scary thing about it."
Schools generally track incidents related to tobacco, e-cigarette, and vaping devices under one general category.
Although, Walnut Ridge High School Principal Jacob Kersey said catching a child with a traditional cigarette has almost become extinct.
“I can recall in the past two school years catching two or three kids smoking a traditional cigarette and I don’t know if I’ve caught a kid yet using smokeless tobacco in about 3 or 4 years,” Kersey said.
Kersey said in the past two years, they have seen a significant spike in vaping incidents.
“We’re seeing a very large increase in the numbers we’re catching,” Kersey said. “Vuse is the one I’m seeing. They’ve been kind of more popular this year than Juuls. We’re even starting to see them in the lower and middle school.”
Vuse is a type of electronic cigarette similar to a Juul.
If a child is caught with a vaping device, it is confiscated.
“I have a whole drawer full of these things,” Kersey said. “We’ve had them do it in class, in hallways, just anywhere. One way we’ve seen a lot is they take the device, the Juul, or whatever and they put it in their hand. They put it up to their mouth so it looks like they are coughing almost, and they’ll actually blow the smoke back in their sleeve or a hoodie or whatever. So, you don’t really see any smoke.”
The problem is not limited to the Walnut Ridge School District.
Vaping reports show a large number of students at Greene County Tech Junior High have been caught with vaping devices.
“I recognized that this was going to be an issue that was not going away,” said Todd.
Todd has held discussions with faculty and staff to educate them on the devices and how students are trying to utilize them undetected.
“It’s very much alarming putting that type of vape, smoke, whatever going in and you don’t know what it’s mixed with,” Todd said.
At Walnut Ridge High School, Principal Kersey has that same concern.
“I’ve been told that these are starting to get sent over from across the border that are laced,” Kersey said. “I know last summer there was an incident from another school I heard about. I think it was laced with K2. Then we had another student here in our school that had the same situation just not long ago. So yes it’s happening. Just because it looks different does mean it’s safer or better.”
That is why Nicole Townsend plans to keep an open dialogue with her daughter and encourages other parents to do the same. “Just talk with your kids. If your kid has been caught with this, then you’re getting a phone call. It’s not too late because they could have just been trying it. It could have been anything.”
Click here to check out the most common vaping devices and the risks to kids, teens, and young adults.