ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Every sixth-grade student in the Round Rock Independent School District is getting a strong message about the use of e-cigarettes and vaping.
The district implemented a program two years ago where middle school students would learn in their physical education class about these products, their harmful components and potential health risks.
“We are having incidents of kids exploring with vaping,” Susan Nix, the district’s assistant athletic director, said, “so I feel like it’s our responsibility to make sure we educated our students on the dangers of vaping or anything that’s dangerous to their health.”
On Tuesday, Coach Sarah Nielsen led a discussion on e-cigarettes with more than 30 students at Canyon Vista Middle School.
“The reason that we are so concerned for our teens these days is because they don’t realize how addictive nicotine can be,” Nielsen said. “As a teen, your brain is still developing, making it much easier for you to get addicted to the nicotine.”
Hearing about the chemicals and nicotine contained in e-cigarettes have convinced some students in Nielsen’s class not to use them.
“If we all went to high school without learning this, we would all start smoking or vaping,” sixth grader Ted Bullot said. “And we would all end up with lung cancer, for example.”
“Sometimes it can cause cancer and popcorn throat, which is a disease that can affect your throat,” added Sawyer Grimaldi, another sixth grader. “I don’t want that to happen to me, and I don’t want that to happen to my little brother or my older brother who’s going into high school next year, which kind of worries me.”
The course also discusses ways that students can deal with peer pressure.
“We’re giving them refusal skills because there is that peer temptation and people saying it’s the cool thing to do,” Nix said. “So we need to provide them with tools that they can walk away from this and not feel like they’re going to be ostracized by their peers.”
This effort comes as the last commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration has called the use of these products an epidemic among children.
The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey released by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that a total of 3.6 million middle school and high school students used e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018. That is an increase of 1.5 million over the previous year, according to the survey.
That alarming jump reinforces why school leaders said intervention and education cannot come soon enough for students.
“It makes me excited that we’re able to provide them a curriculum that they don’t have to be curious and go experiment,” Nix said. “They know now there’s no way I want to put that in my body.”
Round Rock ISD may teach this same information to other grade levels, especially to reach those who may have been older than sixth grade when the program started two years ago.