ST PAUL, Minn. — At the same time that Governor Tim Walz and state public health officials announced a big increase in teen vaping on Wednesday, Henry Sibley High School leaders were dealing with it in real time.
"I believe there were nine (students) who were caught vaping during lunches," said Ann Lindberg, chemical health counselor for School District 197 in West St Paul. "I'm noticing that my phone is blinking, so I have, it says, four messages, likely from parents."
Lindberg says parent calls about e-cigarettes began six years ago, when she first started finding students using large vaping devices in school. But as the devices kept getting smaller and more potent, the problem kept growing.
"It is probably 90 percent of what I deal with as a chemical health counselor," Lindberg said. "We had kids in fourth grade last year who were caught with one or two of these. That's very young."
She says she's also finding more students swapping the nicotine cartridges for illegal THC flavors, which have been linked to the majority of severe lung injury cases hospitalizing people nationwide.
"I don't know whether we've had severe lung injury here," Lindberg said. "But I've had students that I've worked with last year and this year who are honest about the fact that they vape and have said that they have a hard time going up and down the steps."
But the health concerns haven't seemed to resonate. According to the new Minnesota survey, 76 percent of students still say they don't think vaping is dangerous.
"That's particularly concerning," said Sherri Jean Katz, Associate Professor of Health Communication at the University of Minnesota'a Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Katz is currently researching strategies to help reduce teen vaping. On Thursday night, she'll be speaking directly to parents in West St Paul.
"My encouragement for parents out there is to really have a discussion with your teen about this issue and in a way that you're letting them tell you what's happening," Katz said. "Not just, 'Don't do it. It's really dangerous.' but letting them construct that argument for you."
Katz will be part of a public event called "Vaping: A High School Epidemic", which will begin at 7pm at the Northern Service Center in West St Paul.
You can find the event on Facebook, here.