Note: This is the third in a three-part series addressing the issues of electronic cigarette use, especially as it relates to youth.

Standing in front of their peers, a group of Redwood Valley High School students talked about an issue U.S. officials have called an epidemic. Those students, who are members of the Redwood Valley Chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), hosted a presentation Jan. 24 to offer information about the dangers of vaping.

Among those who spoke were Mariah Frank, chapter president, and Kenzie Wertish, chapter vice-president. No, they said, this was not about judging those who vape, but their motivation is to provide the best information possible to those students as they make their choice about vaping.

They called it a reality check. 

Frank and Wertish also talked more about the intent behind the lyceum that Thursday as they emphasized the facts.

Vaping is dangerous and has the potential to do bodily harm to those whose brains are still developing – that ends around age 25. Frank said she believes the more information students have the better informed they will be when they make their choice.

For Wertish it is a matter of encouraging them to “think” before they make the leap into anything. The students recognize the reality off what is happening at Redwood Valley.

There are students who are vaping. There are students who have been caught doing it, and those students have faced the consequences.

Yes, there are consequences to vaping on a number of different levels.

First of all, if a student is not 18 it is illegal for them to use or possess those items related to vaping, whether that be pods, juices or even the device itself.

Dana Woodford of the Redwood Falls Police Department, who also serves as the school’s law enforcement liaison, said there are legal ramifications to illegal use of vaping. For a first offense, Woodford said the typical approach is what is known as diversion, which accepts the fact that people make mistakes. That diversion often means serving a few months of probation, with the condition of participating in some sort of cessation programming and not violating the rules of their probation.

That, said Woodford, means if a student violates their probation by vaping again, or even if they commit some other legal infraction, any legal consequence that may have been diverted will then be applied on top of any consequences from the second violation. Woodford reminded students it is also illegal to furnish products used in vaping to a minor.

Those types of actions can have an immediate impact on youth, said Woodford, and wrong decisions can also impact them down the road when they apply for college and jobs. She said a student who has been convicted of furnishing a product to a minor may not even be able to get a job working at a grocery store or gas station.

Getting caught vaping or possessing vaping products or paraphernalia also has consequences for those students who are involved in extra-curricular activities.

According to Andy Ourada, students lose the opportunity to participate in those activities after being caught, and the time spent away from that activity increases with each additional offense. Ourada added once a student signs the agreement to abide by the rules of the Minnesota State High School League that signature binds them until they leave high school. So, if a student signs the agreement as a seventh grader that will remain in effect until they complete their time as a senior, said Ourada.

Consequences also exist in school, as students who are caught at school vaping or possessing vaping items could face suspension.

So, what does “at school” mean?

According to Rick Jorgenson, being at school begins when a student gets to the bus stop and continues throughout the day while they ride the school bus, at school and until they leave the bus stop at the end of the day. It also includes school-related and approved events, such as field trips and activities. Students who are in the school at night for events can also face those same consequences.

Details of the consequences are outlined in the school handbook, said Jorgenson.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, research has found that students who use a product such as an e-cigarette, are more likely to go on to use other products, such as tobacco, alcohol and narcotics.

Without full federal regulation of electronic cigarettes, no one knows what chemicals may be in the products that are being vaped, but those chemicals related to brain damage, lung disease and even cancer have been found. The long-term effects of use of e-cigarettes is unknown.

Jorgenson emphasized he does not want students 10, 20 or 30 years from now to look back at the decisions made today and regret them because of the health impact they have made on their body.

“I don’t want any of you when you get to be my age to look back and wish you had not made that terrible choice,” said Jorgensen.

Make good choices, he added.

Students know they are being targeted by the manufacturers of electronic cigarettes, adding they see the push being made on social media. They also recognize the fact that the products are being made in flavors that appeal to youth.

While it may be a challenge for a minor to buy products in stores, getting those products is merely a click away online. Regulations on the Internet may require that a buyer of those products be at least 18 years old, but the fact is buyers are simply asked to confirm the fact they are of legal age by clicking a button and indicating a birth date.

“Then it just gets mailed to their homes,” said Jackie Probst, Redwood Area School District director of Indian education, who has been researching and talking about this topic.

Probst said the message that the products are harmless simply are not the truth, adding students might believe simply because it tastes good that it can’t be bad for them.

Jorgenson and Probst, who talked about the epidemic of vaping among youth recently, added it is so important for parents to get informed and to talk with their children about the dangers of vaping.

Information about vaping can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health Web site at www.health.state.mn.us or on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.org.

Students are going to make choices, but those who are involved in their lives, whether it be their parents, their peers or the other adults in their lives (teachers, coaches, school administrators, counselors, law enforcement, employers, etc.) have the opportunity to share the message of the dangers of electronic cigarette use to help them make a good, well-informed decision.

“If you don’t start, you never have to worry about trying to stop,” said Woodford.