Thanks in part to a push from high school students, Olentangy Local School District leaders are taking a closer look at ways to combat vaping.

The district hosted an event for parents Feb. 6 to discuss “the dangers of vaping.” At the event, students from a group called Clearing the Fog shared information they’ve gathered that highlights the rampant use of vaping in Olentangy schools.

The group is made up of Olentangy High School seniors Samantha Billy, Josh Gernert, Maggie Powers and JoAnn VanGorder; they formed Clearing the Fog as a class project last year.

According to Billy, the group members had “seen the way (vaping) had changed some of our friends,” and wanted to do their own research on how much vaping was happening in their school.

Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report that detailed the first recent increase in tobacco use among students, largely due to a 78 percent increase in students using some type of e-cigarette.

The report indicated 1.5 million more students used e-cigarettes in 2018 than in 2017, and found that more than 20 percent of high school students use some kind of vaping device.

The Olentangy students conducted their own survey of 277 classmates. According to that survey, more than 53 percent of students they spoke to had tried vaping in some form, and about 28 percent said they smoked e-cigarettes at least every week.

The students said their goal was eventually to work with the district to help curb vaping – and now district leaders say they’re taking action.

“The students’ Clearing the Fog research, report and recommendations have further educated district leadership about vaping at Olentangy – who uses it, where it’s consumed and how it’s bought and sold,” said Krista Davis, Olentangy’s director of communications.

“This information will certainly influence the direction the district takes to combat this growing problem,” she said.

Allisha Berendts, supervisor of student well-being, said vaping is “a major issue in districts nationwide,” and said Olentangy leaders are aware the district is “not immune to the challenges.”

“Some students are naive about the dangers of vaping by believing it’s a healthier alternative to smoking,” she said.

“Others are aware of the dangers but don’t fully appreciate the potential consequences of their actions – on their health, education and standing with the law. Vaping is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 and it’s strictly forbidden on school grounds regardless of age.”

Along with events such as the Feb. 6 information session, Berendts said the district is “reviewing” its student handbook “with the intention of outlining stricter consequences for e-cigarette usage,” among other actions.

“We’re also increasing our efforts to spread the word about the dangers of vaping by supporting and promoting grassroots student campaigns that take a peer-to-peer approach to education, sharing valuable information from the Delaware County Health Department on our social-media pages, and reaching out to parents directly through newsletters and emails,” she said.

The students of Clearing the Fog hope to make an even broader impact.

They said they’ve reached out to municipalities, county officials and even Ohio legislators about sharing their message.

While the students haven’t heard back from everyone, the district seems to be listening.

“We will continue to pursue opportunities to educate students, staff and parents about the dangers of vaping,” Berendts said. “It’s not a problem we take lightly and we appreciate community support.”