Health Department of Northwest Michigan staff members (from left) Ellen Templeton, Community Health Coordinator, and Susan Pulaski, Community Health Supervisor and SAFE in Northern Michigan Project Coordinator, show one of the Vape/Electronic Nicotine Device (ENDs) Disposal Boxes.

TRAVERSE CITY — A northern Michigan health department is distributing materials to local schools to help middle and high school students quit vaping.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is distributing “Vape Quit Kits” and vape disposal boxes to 17 school-based health programs within the health department’s four-county jurisdiction — Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties. The materials are meant to help young people quit vaping and other nicotine products and promote the end to the vaping epidemic among middle and high schoolers.

The Northern Michigan Regional Entity, which manages the Medicaid funding for the behavioral health and substance use disorder services in the region, provided funding for the Vape Quit Kits and the vape disposal boxes.

“The purpose of this initiative is to help students quit vaping and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” said Nichole Flickema, project coordinator of Substance Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) in Northern Michigan with HDNM, in a press release statement.

Students who tell health department staff they want to quit vaping can receive Vape Quit Kits, which contain “tools to assist them with the quitting process,” such as chewing gum and a sensory fidget toy, according to a press release from HDNM. The kits also include a business card from My Life, My Quit, a free and confidential program that offers help to teenagers looking to quit smoking, vaping or other nicotine products.

The vape disposal boxes are locked mailboxes where students interested in quitting can dispose of their vapes or school staff can dispose of confiscated vapes. Health department Substance Use Prevention (SUP) team members will collect and properly dispose of the vapes from the disposal box at each clinic through hazardous waste collections.

“E-cigarettes and vapes, including rechargeable batteries and the cartridges and bottles that contain e-liquids (liquid nicotine mixtures), can pose a threat to human health and to the environment if they are not disposed of properly,” Flickema said.

According to the CDC and FDA’s 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), more than 2 million middle and high schoolers are using e-cigarette products in 2021. Nearly 85 percent of youth vape users use flavored products, and about one in four use e-cigarettes daily, according to the NYTS.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer instituted an emergency rule banning flavored vape products in 2019, but her ban was rendered unenforceable by state courts. In 2021, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officially pulled away from the battle to enforce the ban in search of alternative legislation to address the vaping epidemic in Michigan.

Vaping in schools is an issue local school districts have made attempts to address in recent years. In 2018, Traverse City Area Public Schools was loaned vape detectors free of charge from the manufacturer through a three-month pilot program to put in the bathrooms and locker rooms in Central High School and West Senior High.

After the pilot program the vape detectors were returned to the manufacturer, so TCAPS did not end up buying them. But on Nov. 8, TCAPS’s board of education voted unanimously to join an ongoing class-action lawsuit that alleges JUUL Labs, Inc., Altria and other vaping manufacturers intentionally marketed their products to children.

Two other schools within the Northwest Education Services Intermediate School District and 79 schools in Michigan have joined this lawsuit, according to the memorandum given to TCAPS school board from Superintendent John VanWagoner.

The schools receiving Vape Quit Kits and vape disposal boxes are:

  • Vanderbilt Area Schools
  • Johannesburg-Lewiston High School
  • St. Mary’s Gaylord High School
  • Petoskey High School
  • Pellston Hornet Health Center
  • Gaylord Blue Devil Wellness Center
  • Alanson Wellness Program
  • Harbor Springs Ram Wellness Program
  • Mancelona Ironmen Health Center
  • Crooked Tree High School
  • Ellsworth Middle-High School
  • Boyne City Rambler Wellness Program
  • Central Lake Trojans Wellness Program
  • Charlevoix Rayder Wellness Program
  • East Jordan Wellness Center
  • The Falls Care Center — Boyne Falls
  • Concord Academy Petoskey

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