West Virginia rolls out new anti-vaping initiative for students

Tobacco and nicotine use are the leading causes of preventable deaths in WV and the nation

By: - August 26, 2023 5:59 am

According to a report published in 2020, more than a third of high school students in West Virginia reported using e-cigarettes in 2019. That’s a 150% increase from 2017. (Justin Sullivan | Getty Images)

West Virginia is launching a new anti-vaping initiative for students as e-cigarette use for children locally and nationwide continues to climb.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Public Health and the state Department of Education will partner for the new “West Virginia’s Clear Future: Don’t Let Vaping Cloud It” initiative.

“Vaping is a huge problem all over the country, and now we’re setting out to actively educate our students about the extreme dangers associated with e-cigarettes,” Gov. Jim Justice said in a news release. “Vaping is very harmful for all users, but especially kids, making it a massive issue for our schools. Our goal is to educate our students early and prevent them from falling into this dangerous vaping trap. This proactive approach will move the needle and I’m very proud to see it come to fruition.”

The campaign will use evidence-based intervention strategies from the CATCH My Breath vaping prevention program. The curriculum is peer-led, and informed by researchers as well as a you advisory board, according to the organization’s website.

Teachers and other school personnel will become facilitators of the new program, and will receive free training to teach them how to present the curriculum to students. Over four weeks, according to CATCH My Breath, facilitators will present four 40-minute sessions to students with the goal of educating them on the dangers of vaping and e-cigarette use. 

Dr. Matthew Christiansen, the state health officer, said during a Wednesday news briefing that children as young as 14 are starting to experiment with vaping. State Superintendent of Schools Michele Blatt said she believes the problem is a “huge issue” at schools across West Virginia, and that students are misled to believe that vaping is “not going to damage their health” as much as traditional cigarette smoking.

According to a DHHR report published in 2020, more than a third of high school students in West Virginia reported using e-cigarettes in 2019. That’s a 150% increase from 2017. Sixty percent of students reported trying e-cigarettes at least once, and the rate of frequent users — students who smoke e-cigarettes 20 days a month or more — increased from 3.1% in 2017 to 16.7% in 2019.

West Virginia received an “F” grade on the American Lung Association’s 2023 State of Tobacco Control Report Card. The report card grades states on policies and practices including funding for tobacco and nicotine prevention, clean air ordinances, deterrents like tobacco taxes and access to cessation services, among other things.

While e-cigarettes typically don’t contain tobacco — in vapes, glycerin-based nicotine juice is added to a tank where metal coils heat the juice to be inhaled as vapor — the federal Food and Drug Administration classifies them as tobacco products.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use and injuries affiliated with it are the leading cause of preventable death and disease in both the United states and West Virginia. 

West Virginia has racked up more than $1 billion in health care costs due to smoking over the last 20 years, according to the CDC.

As of 2023, the state allocates only 6% of the $27.4 million the CDC recommends is needed for tobacco prevention and control in the state.


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Caity Coyne
Caity Coyne

Caity Coyne covers state policy and how it intersects with individuals and communities for West Virginia Watch. She's been reporting in West Virginia for 10 years, most recently covering public health and the Southern Coalfields for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.