NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Struggling to keep up with the rise in teen vaping, North Texas schools are fighting back with more tools and harsher discipline.
According to Texas Education Agency data from 130 schools districts in North Texas, last year schools reported suspending or expelling students 5,041 times for vaping or use of other tobacco products.
This is a dramatic rise from the 1,077 times North Texas schools reported punishing students for vaping two years prior in 2017.
"I think those statistics should indicate that this is a serious phenomenon that we are seeing," said Northwest ISD executive director Logan Faris.
Faris said last year schools noticed a dramatic increase in students with Juul vaping devices.
'Juuls' became popular among teens, in part, because the devices are cheap, sleek, and easy to hide. The devices look like a flash drive.
Before the federal government cracked down on flavored pods, Juul flavors, such as mango, fruit, and crème, also appealed to teens.
- North Texas schools responding with more education and greater enforcement
As vaping quickly swept across campuses, many North Texas school districts started campaigns to educate students, as well as parents, about the dangers.
Several districts also went a step further.
Over the summer, Frisco ISD brought in outside experts to teach administrators on the latest trends in teen vaping habits.
"We always have to be be educating ourselves to stay on top of this," said Ryan Solano, assistant principal at Frisco's Independence High School. "I think we've gotten better at identifying these devices, what students behaviors look like, and even what clothes may be associated with vaping."
Coppell ISD installed vape sensors in bathrooms and other locations around campus. The district also started using drug sniffing dogs and mental-detecting wands to catch vaping devices on students.
"We had a plan and we really wanted to make sure students knew that is what we were looking for and you could never tell when we were coming," said Jennifer Villines, the district's director of student services.
Villines said the district's hard line on vaping is working. She said this year the district has caught fewer students vaping.
Several districts said they believe this year they are finally catching up with the problem but student vaping habits are quickly evolving.
While schools are focused on searching for last year's fad, Juul and NJOY e-cigarettes, many students have moved on to the latest trend - Puff Bars.
So far Puff Bars are exempt from the federal flavor ban making them popular among teens.
They are also disposable making them harder to detect for schools.
"We are all grappling with this emerging safety threat to our students," Faris said. "We don't know everything we need to know so we have to be constantly learning."
- Teen hospitalized after vaping addiction warns schools to not be naive
In December, Anna Carey, 17, was diagnosed with chemical pneumonia – suspected to be the result of her vaping addiction.
For five days the Fort Worth teen underwent treatment at Cook Children's after experiencing severe chest pains. She was placed on oxygen and given.
"It was the worst pain of my life," Carey said. "In the waiting room I was crying because of the pain."
Carey said she started vaping when she was a freshmen in high school. She said it was not long before she was addicted.
"I did it all the time," she said. "I did it between every class and in every class I would go to the bathroom and use it. It was bad."
Carey said she believes parents and schools don't realize just how wide spread vaping has become.
She said it was rare to find someone at her school who did not vape.
"It was kind of just assumed," she explained. "If someone was vaping in the bathroom, everyone was like, 'Can I use it?' Can I use it?' It was almost like gum. If someone had a pack of gum, that's how people would treat it with a Juul."
After being hospitalized, Carey said she quit vaping and hopes others will heed her warnings.
Carey said she was never caught vaping at school and believes parents and schools underestimate how wide spread teen vaping has become.
"Don't be naive," Carey warned. "It's really easy to be like no one is doing it or I don't think it's a problem at my school I think the statistics on who is vaping are wrong. It's more than you think."
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