Public forum in West St. Paul warns of the dangers of vaping

A public forum in West Saint Paul on Thursday brought law enforcement, education, and health officials together with a singular goal: To warn of the dangers associated with vaping.

The goal of the forum was education. Because, as it was described, vaping among the youth was a problem we did not see coming, and now the U.S. Surgeon General has said it's a nationwide epidemic.

Wednesday, a survey showed that one in four 11th graders in Minnesota admitted to vaping. At the same time, state officials are working to understand what has caused 61 confirmed or likely cases of lung injuries linked to vaping.

The small, inconspicuous devices are now showing up in schools and causing major problems among today’s youth.

"Ninety percent of what I’m dealing with this school year alone is vaping or the use of e-cigs," said Ann Lindberg, a drug counselor for District 197. "Whether it be with nicotine or marijuana."

Vaping among teens is pervasive, officials said. So much so, West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier says it's been a problem for even his teen.

"I look at what he might be missing out on down on the road because his lungs are coated with this stuff and you find out that it’s lethal, and they’re going to die from it down the road,” the mayor said.

Officials say a major issue surrounding vaping is the lack of education and an overall lack of knowledge of its impacts down the line.

"Really, you don’t know what the long-term effects are," Napier said. "There’s no one that’s 70 years old that’s been vaping for 30 years.”

According to a national youth tobacco survey, 3.6 million middle and high school students vape. As the age of e-cig users gets younger, the concern across the country grows.

"You look at the news and you see that happening," explained Napier. "My son is so far away in college in Pittsburgh, and I know he’s been vaping but I think the messages have got through to him, and I am pleased to say he’s not vaping anymore.”

An outcome all officials at Thursday’s forum are hoping for: Evidence that education is essential to ending the epidemic.

State statistics show that three out of four eleventh graders believe there are little no problems associated with vaping e-cigs, which is why officials say education is so important.