The Warning Signs

Tricia Vasquez became a crusader against vaping due to a “sticky” situation. The Lubbock mother of three high school students was making a back to school poster for the Monterey High School PTA and was searching for a glue stick when she reached into her 15-year old daughter’s backpack and pulled out a large vape. Her shock gave way to disappointment, but it also led to a great mother-daughter conversation.

“She was open about it, and admitted she was doing it because everybody else was trying it,” says Vasquez. That conversation was the catalyst that spurred her to action. She did a lot of research, talked to a multitude of health care providers and counselors, and has become an outspoken activist about the dangers of vaping and how parents and educators in Lubbock ISD can collaborate against it.

Monterey’s PTA, at Vasquez’s urging, has taken the initial lead in our district’s efforts to educate families and children about the health concerns for those who vape. Promoting healthy lifestyles at home and at school fits the focus for the group’s efforts to secure a School of Excellence designation from National PTA.

In late January, Vasquez was instrumental in organizing a town hall meeting for Monterey students and parents. The focus was on three questions: have you ever vaped, how recently, and did you know the contents of what you were inhaling? Vasquez says the scariest part about this is in a sample size of 150 students, 28% admitted they vaped, and about 10% had no idea what they were using.

Paulett Rozneck believes the percentage of users district wide may actually be a little bit higher. She is the coordinator for student health services for Lubbock ISD. Principals in our district’s five high schools and 11 middle schools tell her they have confiscated numerous vaping devices from students. She says it is easier to conceal because they can stuff it up their sleeves, camouflage the smoke by blowing it into their hoodies, or pretend like they’re coughing and exhale. She says the attraction is the same as smoking cigarettes, only this is the newer, cooler thing to do. Smoking is passé, it’s what parents do.

Vaping is much more potent than smoking cigarettes even though it’s advertised as a better alternative. Rozneck says it delivers the same kind of kick, but with a higher concentration of nicotine because it’s not being controlled. She warns that no one really knows what’s in these solutions. She says, “it could be grass, it could be anything that could be harmful to our kids.”

“She has a close relationship with her daughter but was not aware that she had been vaping for nine months prior to that backpack discovery.”

Vapes are also convenient to obtain. The solutions and vaping devices can be ordered online which is of great concern to Vasquez. She says you just don’t know what your children are doing, even if you think you do. She has a close relationship with her daughter but was not aware that she had been vaping for nine months prior to that backpack discovery. There isn’t the tell-tale smell of smoke. Vapes are easily hidden. She suggests parents do a little detective work. Check packages ordered online and examine credit cards for unusual purchases. Look for the signs.

Rozneck says there has to be a conversation, even if you don’t suspect your child is vaping. As a conversation starter, admit that vaping is attractive and it’s the newest thing, but explain the truth about its harmful effects. It can give you the lungs of an 80-year old smoker. It can destroy you.

Vasquez says the conversation with her daughter was matter-of-fact. She didn’t use shock value because she doesn’t think it works. She also recommends not to go it alone. Enlist the help of a school counselor or other adults who your child trusts.

What are Lubbock ISD educators doing to promote awareness of the dangers of vaping? Two Lubbock ISD schools, Estacado High School and Irons Middle School, recently participated in the Texas Tobacco Survey. Plans are in place for seven additional schools to participate in the Texas survey for drugs, smoking, vaping, and alcohol. Rozneck says this will provide more data to help enforce the fact that vaping among teens is at a dangerous new high. She believes educating students and parents is key because most don’t realize that vaping is more harmful than cigarettes.

Rozneck is the point person for the survey which will be administered with complete anonymity. Parents will be notified two weeks in advance of the survey which will target middle and high school students. Texas A&M is the research body crunching the numbers. The survey will be distributed in paper form instead of electronically to better safeguard the identity of the respondents. Rozneck is confident the data will provide the basis for an educational program and lead to more rigorous policies and practices. She says, “I think it will give us more teeth.”

Vasquez now has a reputation as an expert on the subject. She’s been recruited for a statewide task force examining the prevalence of vaping. She says she started out as a concerned mom who now realizes that vaping is a lot bigger than she anticipated. Her kids and husband now call her the “vape lady.” She admits it’s a fitting nickname. “I’m a mom who is adamant that we must be aware of what’s going on before vaping ruins many more young lives.”

Tricia Vasquez is a panelist for Texas PTA’s Straight Talk: A Matter of Life and Breath, February 25, 2020, broadcast live on the Texas PTA Facebook page.