Gwinnett County Schools champion education approach to combat youth vaping crisis

Gwinnett County school officials are sounding the alarm about the dangers of vaping among their students. 

Some students at Meadowcreek High School have noticed an uptick in vape use among their peers. 

"Some people say that it helps them relax, and it takes their mind off of things, especially people who are going through things," sophomore Sergio Martinez said. 

"Our restrooms are, you know, not the best because of the smoke, and that is where most people skip school now, inside the bathrooms to use drugs," junior Carli Miller added. 

Gwinnett County school leaders say there has been about a 66% increase in students taken to tribunals for vape use in the last year. 

It's been a problem nationwide. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there's been a 4% decrease in the number of high school students using vapes from 2022-202, but the number of middle school students vaping stayed the same. 

"This is not a new thing to young people. They're saying to each other, ‘Oh, this could help you, so there's this idea that it's harmless, but it could help me, let me try it,’" Jessica Andrews-Wilson, Executive Director of the Gwinnett United in Drug Education program, said. 

Andrews-Wilson said they are harmful, with most containing nicotine and sometimes even harder substances. 

"They are now having vapes that contain marijuana vapes that are laced with fentanyl vapes that have some of these harder drugs that kids might say, ‘oh no, I would never do that,’" she explained. 

School officials say their goal is to educate both students and parents about the dangers of vaping to keep the devices out of the hands of young people. 

"You can't discipline your way out of this issue, so we think it's about education, so we start with the students, and then we also extend to our parents," Grady Caldwell, Director of Behavior Supports and Interventions for Gwinnett County Schools, explained. 

"We encourage parents to have those conversations really early, to not wait until they're in middle school or high school, but to be having those conversations when they're in elementary school, because that's a lot easier to deal with than my kids already addicted to nicotine," Andrews-Wilson added.