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CHARLESTON — The number of West Virginia high school students who vape has increased 150% in just three years, according to a new report on youth vaping from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The report, “West Virginia Youth and Vaping: A Dangerous Combination,” released Thursday, is in response to the rapid rise in electronic-cigarette product use among youth.

This report was also prepared in the context of DHHR’s ongoing investigation of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury.

E-cigarettes, or vapes, heat a solution of nicotine inhaled through vapor. The products were first introduced more than a decade ago when tobacco use among youth was continuing to decline in West Virginia and across the U.S.

The introduction of more flavors, including candy and fruity flavors, along with the products becoming smaller and easier to hide, has contributed to the increase of teen nicotine use.

Adult and youth tobacco use in West Virginia has historically exceeded national levels. Youth use of and exposure to nicotine-based products in West Virginia has escalated in the past two years.

More than 1 in 3, or 35.7%, of West Virginia high school students report current use of e-cigarettes. This is a 150% increase from 2017 to 2019 alone. The national average is 27%, a 135% increase from 2017.

In 2019, more than 60% of high school students, or 62.4%, reported having tried e-cigarettes. This is up from 44.4% in 2017. Since 2017, West Virginia high school students reported frequent use of vaping products (20 or more days a month), an increase by almost 440%, from 3.1% to 16.7%.

Some schools are seeing even higher usage. Scott High School student Kelsi Akers, 18, and Sherman High School student Haley Ceravolo, 17, presented to the House Committee on the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse on Thursday. The two surveyed all the high school students in Boone County’s three high schools and found 53% of the student body used vapes. The number was even higher among the student-athletes, Akers said.

“It’s huge in our school. We see it every day,” Akers said. “We know it’s not good. If you look up the chemicals, the FDA hasn’t approved them because they don’t know what’s in it. Kids are inhaling it. We see kids every day getting under their desk and smoking it, and the teacher doesn’t even know it because it smells good. We really want to bring awareness.”

Younger students are also reporting increased use. More than 1 in 6 (15.3%) West Virginia middle school students are current users of electronic vapor products. This is an increase of almost 160% since 2017. Middle schoolers reporting frequent use have also increased by more than 260%, from 0.8% to 2.9%.

Akers and Ceravolo said they rarely see anyone smoking cigarettes anymore. They said the flavors and better smell attract their peers.

“Everybody does it,” Ceravolo said.

Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, chairman of the substance abuse committee and a physician, said youth vaping is an epidemic.

“The real unknown is how many chronic illnesses will these cause in the long term,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

Rohrbach’s committee approved a bill Thursday that would require postal carriers check licenses for delivery of vape products, similar to the state’s law on wine deliveries. Rohrbach said this will help ensure teens can’t order the products online.

Bills have also been introduced to update the state’s tobacco laws to include electronic devices and to require the tobacco Quitline be posted in schools. There is also a bill to increase prevention funding, which could include bringing back Raze, the student-led tobacco prevention groups, by pulling from the tobacco settlement funds.

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