West Virginia hosts region’s first Community Dialogue on the Teen Vaping Epidemic

The West Virginia team for the American Heart Association hosted the state’s first Community Dialogue event, focused on the teen vaping epidemic that has hit our nation. The event brought together panelists from the medical and education sectors as well as community members concerned about the dangers of e-cigarettes and our youth.

The event was hosted by South Charleston Middle School and brought together five panelists, including:
– Henry Graves, Principal, South Charleston Middle School
– Patricia Kelly, MD, FAAP, Pediatrician, Marshall Health
– Sherri Young, DO, FAAFP, Health Officer, Kanawha Charleston Health Department
– Catherine Slemp, MD, MPH, State Health Officer, WV Dept. of Health & Human Resources Bureau for Public Health
– Zoya Khalid, Senior student at George Washington High School; Member, Charleston Youth Council

The event took attendees on a brief overview of how the teen vaping epidemic has impacted West Virginia, where more than 1 in 3 (35.7%) high school students report current use of e-cigarettes. This is a 150% increase from 2017 to 2019 alone. More than 1 in 6 (15.3%) West Virginia middle school students are current users of electronic vapor products. This is an increase of almost 160% since 2017.

One of the major themes of the night was that of education. Principal Henry Graves spoke to the need of education for teachers and parents as to what e-cigarette devices look like, as many can resemble everyday objects like make-up pens, highlighters, computer flash drives and, one example that got major response from the crowd, a digital sports watch.

Student Zoya Khalid spoke to the importance of educating kids as early as elementary school to the dangers of vaping as from what she has seen most students don’t see it as dangerous, separating it from smoking regular cigarettes.

One attendee was Marinna Fletcher, who nearly lost her 17-year old son from vaping. She, too, agreed that educating parents to the symptoms of what vaping can do to a teen is critical.

The event had a robust Q&A session with many attendees asking about how e-cigarettes really work and about what they can do to help fight the epidemic. It truly was a community dialogue and this special event served as a means to bring light to it as well as a call to action for the need to educate and fight back.

The event was also covered by two local TV stations as well as the Charleston Gazette-Mail, showing that this topic is one that West Virginians are paying close attention to as we are above the national average for teen e-cigarette use. Click on this link to see WOWK TV’s coverage of the event: https://www.wowktv.com/news/local/american-heart-association-reveals-the-ugly-truth-about-vaping/ 

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