Last week, the California Department of Public Health issued a health advisory warning people that the risks of vaping include breathing problems, lung damage and even death. But Half Moon Bay High School sounded the warning even sooner, boosting efforts to address vaping when the school year started. 

A club called “Vape Escape” started with five students in a leadership class last year, but about 30 students signed up to join the group this year. The club is part of a multi-pronged approach the high school is taking to educate students and families about the dangers of vaping. 

The California Department of Health is investigating reports of 101 hospitalizations and two deaths in the state that may be linked to vaping. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students used e-cigarettes last year.

Principal John Nazar said the problem at Half Moon Bay High School is likely similar to what many other schools around the state are experiencing. 

“We’ve caught kids vaping at times,” he said. “We’re not worse than other schools. Young people had stopped smoking. We went years without catching kids with tobacco, but vaping came along and companies did outreach to young people.”

The club’s goal is to “make vaping not cool again,” said club adviser Scot Weinberger. This year, the group hopes to expand its merchandise and put together a presentation to give to students at Cunha Intermediate School and others. 

“If this is to have any impact at the high school, or Cunha level, it really needs to have the content delivered in a peer-to-peer fashion,” said Weinberger, whose son graduated from Half Moon Bay High. “Otherwise, it’s just another educational program put together by adults that are not necessarily cognizant of all the dynamics going on in the school.” 

Alongside the Vape Escape club, the school has included a vaping component to the high school’s freshman social studies class. Half Moon Bay High School and Cunha Intermediate School received a grant for $90,000 to use for contracts with organizations like Adolescent Counseling Services, which works with students who are caught vaping, and Neuroscience of Addiction, which trains teachers. 

“We’re not just trying to catch kids here,” Nazar said. “It’s about educating kids about the risks.”

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