Battle fought on "daily basis," West Ouachita High School trying to stop vaping epidemic

West Ouachita High School battling the epidemic of student vaping.
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OUACHITA PARISH, La. (KNOE) - West Ouachita school officials say vaping has become a big problem in schools across the area. Students are now sneaking devices known as electronic cigarettes, e-cigs, or vapes into classrooms at West Ouachita High School, according to school nurse Kathy Rutledge, and it's putting their health at risk.

"It's a battle that we fight here at West Ouachita on a daily basis," Rutledge said.

Rutledge says within just a few months, school officials have confiscated hundreds of the devices and their pods, which hold the liquids. Although not all pods on the market contain nicotine, Rutledge says many of the ones they find at West Ouachita do.

"The selling pitch is that these are not as dangerous as cigarettes. I beg to differ," Rutledge said. "One of these Juul pods are equivalent to a pack of cigarettes."

Rutledge said the amount of nicotine loaded into the pods is very detrimental to the teenage brain. She says this allows the students to become addicted quicker.

"Studies have shown that these lead to smoking cigarettes," Rutledge said. In fact, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of vaping devices with nicotine is a big reason we've seen a spike in teenage tobacco users nationwide.

Principal Rebekah Oaks says her school is not alone. She has met with several other principals in Ouachita Parish facing the same problem.

"It has just exploded," Oaks said. "Any administration in the parish, can open his drawer and take a remarkable number of them."

Oaks says the devices are very sleek and modern, which makes it harder for teachers to detect. The pods and some of the more expensive devices look like USB drives. Rutledge says students hide them behind their watches, sweaters, and sleeves to quickly take a whiff without being noticed.

Rutledge says their biggest fears are how easily students can get ahold to one of the e-cigs and the dangers of someone lacing the liquid with substances like fentanyl.

"Like buying a coke, it's extremely easy," Rutledge said. "That's scary to think that we have so many kids around here that are already addicted."

The principal says they have met with teachers to show them the devices, so they can easily spot them on campus.