Lamar County officials crack down on vaping after health issues among teens

Officials from the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office and the Lamar County School District are cracking down on the dangers of “vaping,” particularly among underage individuals who may be suffering health issues after ingesting the smoking devices found at convenience stores and smoke shops in the area.

Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel said his department is working closely with the school district and other officials to try to combat that use, especially after middle- and high-school age students have been recently exhibiting overdose symptoms after using the products.

“The thing is, they’re easy to conceal, because all you’ve got is some smoke – there’s no smell,” Rigel said. “When you go to a place where there’s a lot of wind or something like that, the smoke dissipates pretty quick, and it’s hard to detect, and we’re seeing a lot more of it.

“We’re working closely with the school police and the school administration, and with the (Drug Enforcement Administration) task force, and it’s not just inherent to Lamar County – it’s all over the place. We’ve had people say that it’s not illegal – well, yeah, maybe you can sell it over the counter, but it’s like selling beer to a minor, because you have to be 21 to purchase stuff like that.”

To help combat that, officers are working undercover to discover any locations in the area that may not check identification before selling those products to minors. In addition, deputies have been conducting classes at local schools to educate students and parents on the dangers of vaping.

“I hear so many parents saying that it’s not tobacco, and it’s not marijuana and it’s not drugs,” Rigel said. “But research has shown that it can be addictive, and any time you put anything into your lungs, it can’t be good for you.”

In addition to the nicotine-laced cartridges, Rigel said his department has taken in several cartridges with high amounts of THC, which is the substance in marijuana that produces the “high.”

“We saw some with as much as 90 percent THC,” he said. “When you get something like that, it’s an immediate high, because the dosage is so strong.

“If you smoke a (marijuana) joint, it takes two or three joints to get the same thing as a small part of those THC vape cartridges, so it’s a quick buzz.”

Rigel said many parents may not be completely aware of what is contained in the cartridges and made available to consumers.

“If they knew the stats and knew the stuff that (consumers) are actually ingesting into their bodies, they’d have a different opinion about it,” he said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do, is educate the parents.

“We’ve got a PowerPoint presentation that we’re doing throughout the school system, and I think our next target is going to be (Parent Teacher Organizations) and rotary clubs and things like that, to get in touch with the parents directly. If you talk to a bunch of kids at an assembly or classroom, you might reach one person, and the rest of them just want you to go on and get out of there. But if you do it for the parents … I think that’s where you’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck, as far as getting the word out there.”

As of January, students of the Lamar County School District are facing harsher penalties if caught with vaping devices of any kind – including but not limited to vape pens, disposable vapes, vape kits and pod systems – at any of the district’s campuses or activities.

That measure was voted on during…

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