In a 2018 survey, nearly one in four Vigo County School Corp. 12th graders said they had vaped in the month prior.

About 10 percent of eighth graders also had vaped, the survey showed.

On Wednesday, the school district, in partnership with Hamilton Center, announced a new vaping education program for Vigo County middle and high school students who are first-time violators of school policy, which prohibits tobacco use and vaping.

In the 2018-19 school year, 306 tobacco or vaping violations were reported at Vigo County School Corp. schools, officials said.

Last year, first-time offenders of the tobacco/vaping policy received a three-day, in-school suspension. Starting this year, first-time offenders will have the opportunity to complete “Catch My Breath,” an evidence-based education program offered by Hamilton Center.

Students will attend a 30- to 40-minute class once a week for four weeks. This approach both informs students about the dangers of vaping and limits disruption to their education, according to the school district.

The program enables students "to understand the negative side effects of Juuling, of vaping, of putting these harmful substances in their body," said Chris Barrett, dean at Terre Haute North Vigo High School, where a news conference took place.

"They are not just being disciplined. They are going to get educated on why they shouldn't do these things."

When a student is caught vaping, the school dean will obtain permission from the parent or guardian to start “Catch My Breath.”

Two years ago, North Vigo had 90 tobacco/vaping incidents, with about 15 of them vaping. Last year, there were 91 incidents, almost all of them vaping, Barrett said. "There was probably a lot more we didn't catch."

The vaping devices are getting smaller and may look like flash drives or pens. "It's awful easy to do this in different places in the building, sometime even in the classroom when the teacher's back is turned," he said.

The hope is that by educating students, more will choose not to vape in the future.

Topics to be covered in "Catch my Breath" include informing students about the materials they are ingesting, said Erika McKinney, Hamilton Center care manager supervisor. "It's not vapor, but actual chemicals that have been heated up" and they are drawing into their lungs

The program also educates students about how companies are targeting them through marketing, and it teaches them refusal skills. Students take assignments home and the program is "very interactive," McKinney said.

While topics will be similar for middle and high school, the curriculum will be age appropriate based on grade level, she said.

A second vaping violation at the high school level will mean a three-day, in-school suspension, Barrett said.

Middle school students will be able to repeat the program before other disciplinary measures are taken, said Bill Riley, VCSC director of communications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.

E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine, the CDC says, and young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.

According to a CNN report this week, at least 15 states have identified more than 120 cases of lung disease or injury that could be linked to vaping. The CDC has said it is investigating severe pulmonary disease among people who use e-cigarettes in some states.

Using electronic cigarettes or vaping, particularly the flavored varieties, can cause popcorn lung, says the American Lung Association.

"They are starting to see children with popcorn lung," or scarring tissue in lungs that can't be healed, McKinney said.

And, she said, young people's brains are still developing, and "nicotine literally changes the neuro pathways in your brain and causes you to be more addicted more quickly and possibly addicted to other substances."

But the bottom line is, "We just don't know what the long term [health] effects are," said Anastasia Godsey, Hamilton Center director of child and adolescent services. "We have had studies on cigarettes, but we don't have long term studies yet on Juul" or vaping.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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