Vaping, also known as juuling, has become prevalent amongst middle and high school students and northcentral Pennsylvania is not immune to it.

BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 hosted a “Hot Topic Forum” on Tuesday, Sept. 24, to share resources on vaping and juuling and learn how districts are regionally managing this trend as it continues to draw national attention.

Bill David, principal at North Penn-Mansfield High School, said the forum was very informational.

“There was a former university professor there. We looked at why there is so much use amongst young people, and the representative from the Lung Association talking about what little information the public has and how it is not as advertised,” he said.

Northern Tioga School District superintendent Diana Barnes said she thought the forum was “very good.”

“It was very informative on the dangers of vaping. It is distressing to learn how this industry has targeted teenagers,” she added.

According to Barnes, school districts throughout the region have been “struggling with the issue for a couple years now.”

“Students can vape and teachers don’t even know they are doing it. We had to change district policy to even address it to include any kind of electronic device or any device of any kind,” she added.

She also noted the district is providing staff with professional development training through the American Lung Association. The district also plans to share the information in the its newsletter for parents.

“I think the state needs to step up and raise the age for vaping and any electronic products at all so we have some legs to it when we tell them they can’t do it,” she said.

“It is not a safe alternative to smoking and education will have to be the key,” David said. “The things we see in our area, we are not in a bubble.”

Dr. Beth McMahon, former professor at Lock Haven University and co-chair to the Lycoming County Youth Development Task Force, shared the Pennsylvania Youth Survey Data on tobacco and e-cigarette use, and the correlation to mental health statistics. While the historical data indicated decreased use of tobacco over the last 15 years, the onset of vaping devices has reintroduced the addiction at alarming rates.

Dr. McMahon posed the question, “How can we − families, schools, and communities − help our youth?” and shared the results of a recent focus group study that confirmed the connection between vaping, adolescent anxiety and social pressures facing the z-generation.

IU 17’s director of educational planning Brooke Beiter said, “Vaping devices alone will not change behaviors, but those devices along with increased prevention awareness and parent and community communication, educators can reduce the harmful trend. Today was a conversation starter that equipped educators across the region.”

Superintendents, principals, and school counselors from seven school districts attended the forum.

The IU intends to offer a “Hot Topic Forum” again in the spring to address trauma-informed care.