LINCOLN COUNTY - A new billboard on Center Ave. in Merrill reassures parents that most area students don't vape. Youth Development Coordinator Debbie Mollendorf says new technologies could negatively impact that trend.
"We have had students share with administration at this school, that 'you have a policy that I'm going to get suspended if I have this device with me … well, I'm addicted to it… I need help.'"
The new billboard is part of greater campaign in Lincoln Co. to raise awareness about youth vaping.
As of Jan. 2, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) reported more than 100 confirmed and probable cases of vaping related
lung injuries. In July, Wisconsin teenagers
were among some of the first affected by the mysterious lung disease. Counterfeit THC products including vitamin E acetate
were later revealed to be at the root of many of these incidents.
According to numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a majority of students in Lincoln Co. have not used vaping products. YRBS data released in 2019 shows 91% of middle school and 75% of high school students in Lincoln Co. don't vape. Mollendorf believes those numbers could soon skew in the opposite direction because of misinformation.
"Many young people have the perception that there isn't anything other than vapor coming out of those products and there's nothing harmful coming out of those products and we know that there is," said Mollendorf. "We do know that many vaping devices include a high concentration of nicotine."
Mollendorf said she was happy to hear about a new law
raising the age to smoke tobacco products from 18 to 21. She said President Trump's recent ban
on certain flavored vape pods was also encouraging.
Merrill Area Public School's Director of Pupil Services Karen Baker said action at the federal level may not go far enough.
"I think it's encouraging that it's been identified, but unfortunately the trickle down affect I don't believe will have much of an impact," said Baker.
Baker is working with Mollendorf to implement the anti-vaping campaign in Merrill area schools. Notably, the campaign includes a pilot program sponsored by Lincoln Co. Social Services that offers students caught vaping at school online resources that teach them how to quit. Traditionally, students caught vaping would be suspended.
"Our ultimate hope is that we find no vaping, that no students are vaping within the school and that they're really learning to take control of their bodies in a very healthy way," said Baker.
Mollendorf hopes the campaign will remind parents to be more proactive when discussing drug use with their children.
"So it's important that parents are having that conversation with their children and learning themselves," said Mollendorf.
For more resources on starting conversations with teenagers about vaping, the new billboard in Merrill directs parents to thevapetalk.org
The billboard was raised by a combination of community groups including the Ascension Good Samaritan Hospital, Merrill United Way, Optimist Club of Merrill and the Healthy Minds Coalition in collaboration with UW-Extension, Murray and Associates and the Lincoln Co. Health Department.