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FOCUS: Are kids vaping more during the pandemic?

Ben Chandler, CEO of the nonprofit Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said we still don’t know the full impact of COVID-19 on underage vaping.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For years, health officials have been warning us about the increased use of e-cigarettes and the dangers of the addiction. 

Back in February, we brought you into Bullitt East High School to show you how vaping was impacting their students, staff, and curriculum. 

But COVID-19 has changed that. In an email, Sarah Smith, Bullitt County Public Schools Director of Safe and Drug Free Schools, said: “... Our violations, of course, have gone drastically down during remote learning.”

In August, of about 13,150 students at Bullitt County Public Schools, there were three tobacco violations. During the same month last year, before COVID-19, there were 62 violations. Dozens of vaping products were confiscated.   

Around the county, vaping numbers have gone down too. A recent national survey shows 1.8 million fewer kids in the U.S. are using e-cigarettes compared to last year. That's according to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey, released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September. 

Ben Chandler, CEO of the nonprofit Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, is hopeful more and more kids quit their addiction. 

“While I don’t feel very good about the pandemic at all that is one of the silver linings to the pandemic I think," said Chandler.

"With kids working remotely do you think the problem is just more concealed now?" asked FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan.

“We don’t have any data on that subject but it could be. It could be, it’s possible certainly that it is going underreported and that we’re not finding out about it and that it’s hidden more," Chandler said. 

Vaping products don’t smell like burning tobacco. Many of them smell like fruit and candy. 

“And consequently we do know parents have a much harder time telling when their kids are vaping," said Chandler. 

But he said his hunch is that underage vaping among kids is down partly because there’s less opportunity. In January, the legal age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, changed from 18 to 21 in Kentucky.

“They can not legally get their hands on the products so they rely on friends to get the products and they’re not seeing those friends I would imagine during this pandemic," he said. 

Chandler said we still don’t know the full impact of COVID-19 on underage vaping. There’s not enough data yet. He said the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky will be surveying youth on the topic within the coming months.