I remember last school year in Hillsborough County Schools we were being asked as a NOPE Chapter to address the vaping “thing” during our student presentations. It was a casual mention, almost an afterthought once weed and alcohol were mentioned as issues on campuses across the district.

This year things have changed so much. We are now being asked before we even arrive to make certain to mention vaping, to address the real health concerns, and to not tip-toe around the fact that teens are losing their lives across our nation to what seemed like a harmless activity.

When we re-wrote the middle school and high school scripts over this summer we knew vaping had hit the headlines of the newspapers and TV news almost daily. We, as a chapter entrusted to educate and empower both teens and adults on how to fight this epidemic of youth substance use/abuse and accidental overdose and substance-related deaths know how serious of a job we have.

We have shared our revised student presentations 4 times thus far this new school year, and the response from administrators and staff has been exceptional. We heard the words, “You hit the problem head-on! Thank you.”

Our Sheriff, Chad Chronister, along with Superintendent Jeff Eakins created a PSA surrounding this challenge in our schools. We play this PSA during our student presentations. Take a look at it here.

Students sit in silence overall. Sure, a few of them roll their eyes when the moderator first mentions vaping and how it is a health crisis, but by the time the photos are shown of a boy in a coma brought on by daily vaping you can hear a pin drop. They leave the auditorium at least thinking twice about this seemingly harmless vaping that is clearly not so harmless after hearing 6 teenagers have died in the United States, and their deaths are related to vaping. Just yesterday in our Tampa Bay Times newspaper, three articles/editorials tackled this issue.

It’s a big deal, and finally our country is addressing it. Read this recent story from a national outlet.

Now it’s time to educate the parents of today’s teens. Our NOPE of Hillsborough parent presentations are blunt and purposefully emotional. Today’s parents need to realize that finding a vape pen is a signal of a big problem with their teen, and they need to address it quickly. Our presentations to adults inform them of things to look for that might signal substance use/abuse and provide them with tools on how to talk with their teen and/or get help for them, for the family.

I encourage you to check out our resources page found on this web site. There are people and places to turn to for help. You are not alone in this challenging time of raising teens. You just have to look for the help and ask for it.