'We haven't seen the worst of it': Tri-Cities task force targets teen vaping

  • The new Fox Valley Vape Task Force aims to keep vaping products out of the hands of kids and young adults in the Tri-Cities.

    The new Fox Valley Vape Task Force aims to keep vaping products out of the hands of kids and young adults in the Tri-Cities. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, August 2019

  • Carolyn Waibel

    Carolyn Waibel

 
 
Posted10/28/2019 5:30 AM

A growing teenage vaping epidemic has taken the country by storm, hitting communities fast and furiously as suburban leaders scramble to get their arms around the issue.

In the Tri-Cities, a newly created task force is taking its shot.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

School officials, police, parents, medical professionals, government leaders and others have joined forces to increase awareness about the dangers of vaping and to keep products out of the hands of kids and young adults under age 21.

The Fox Valley Vape Task Force is spearheaded by St. Charles Unit District 303 school board President Carolyn Waibel, along with parents Tim and Jennifer Kolb. They have been working for months to bring together the right blend of community "doers," said Waibel, who also serves as the area's 708 Mental Health Board chairwoman, though she is not representing any particular organization on the task force.

"We see how it's affecting (our kids) and their schoolmates, and how widespread the problem is," Tim Kolb said. "We have people from all walks of life that are part of this and hoping to help."

At their first meeting Oct. 8, members created a mission statement, developed a vision and defined a set of goals divided into four categories: education, prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.

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The volunteer group wants to move quickly, Waibel said, because the problem is moving quickly. Hundreds of nicotine and THC vaping items are confiscated each year at St. Charles high schools alone, officials say. The products are being used by teens in athletic clubs and academic organizations, and they're even spreading into middle schools.

"It's been cooking for a while, and it's about to simmer over," Waibel said. "We haven't seen the worst of it."

During a joint meeting last month, St. Charles police and District 303 leaders touched on some of the procedures they've implemented in hopes of getting a handle on underage vaping, especially in schools. But it takes more than one or two entities to tackle an issue of such breadth and magnitude, Waibel said.

The task force aims to develop a comprehensive program with continuity throughout St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia. If it's successful, she said, the efforts could potentially be expanded into other parts of Kane County.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That starts with effectively communicating the health risks and warning signs to parents, teens and educators, Waibel said.

"It's very, very difficult to enforce," she said. "There's not a lot of education out there, and there's not a lot of discussion going on at the community levels."

Members of the task force were assigned to pull facts about vaping use and dangers, which would then be disseminated online, according to its list of goals. Some also are researching ways to implement standardized vaping seminars and informational presentations for schools, athletic clubs and community groups.

The group plans to seek funding to help kick-start those initiatives.

Other goals include creating a 1-800 number for community members to report underage sales to police, organizing a home testing kit, distributing anti-vaping bracelets for students to wear at school, influencing lawmakers to serialize vaping devices, and developing an age-appropriate program to help kids who are addicted.

"It's been so difficult for so many parents to get their students off it," Jennifer Kolb said. "It's so prevalent now, but there are no answers."

A crucial piece of the puzzle, Waibel said, is encouraging parents to initiate conversations with their kids about vaping -- "Are you using it? Have you tried it? Where'd you get it?" Those questions aren't easy, she said, but they're necessary.

"Our job is, how do we respectfully educate parents and have them understand there's not a stigma attached to it?" Waibel said. "It's a new product that's taken the entire country by surprise.

"We need to get a handle on it by talking about it. We need to face reality for the safety of our kids."

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