Campus Crime Stoppers helps identify top student…


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Student tips are helping Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas address some of the top issues on school campuses, but parent involvement is still needed.

Ten minutes into a phone interview with the Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas, a tip came in. It wasn’t about a murder or a robbery. It wasn’t from an adult either.

This anonymous tip came in from a child.

“This is a tip about kids smoking and drinking underage,” Crime Stoppers Administrator and Campus Coordinator Jeremy Raley, who did not reveal any further information about the anonymous tip, said. “That is the sad part about it, when we get these. It’s sad for me because I am a parent.”

Another 10 minutes passed. Another quiet tip is received. 

This time, it’s for a major growing problem that Raley says stacks even higher than underage drinking and smoking: vaping.

Top issues

In recent years, Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas rolled out a new campus program that educates children and meets a David’s Law requirement by giving students a way to anonymously report school tips to Crime Stoppers.

“The number one issue in all of the schools is vaping,” Raley said, noting it is a major problem for both southeast Texas and the state. “…These kids think they are bulletproof, that nothing will happen to them and that it is the cool thing to do.”

Bullying, fighting and mental health issues follow vaping as top issues, he said.

Vaping breakdown

Vaping is the use of an electronic cigarette, which national health officials have deemed harmful for youth. E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“The liquid can contain: nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoid (CBD) oils, and other substances, flavorings, and additives. THC is the psychoactive mind-altering compound of marijuana that produces the ‘high.’” the information said.

State laws and school policies prohibit youth from using and prohibit retailers from selling or distributing electronic cigarettes to those under the age of 18. Yet, Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas has received hundreds of tips since it rolled out its school program. 

RELATED: Beaumont district considers high school vape, emergency sensors

Alarming trend

This year, at one school alone, Raley received 150 tips in a week and a half after a presentation at one of the schools. The students will often report where a classmate was observed vaping, including in areas where there may be limited supervision such as in the bathroom or behind a building.

One day, Raley observed a vaping incident on campus with his own eyes.

“I was at the school and a student was eating breakfast. He took a hit off a vape and fell right over. He had to go to the emergency room,” Raley said. “These are real things that are happening. Schools are spending so much in resources to stop it and that does hurt in other areas. Vape detectors cost a lot of money to purchase.”

Raley estimated a vape detector may cost about $1,100 and said school districts are trying to purchase the items, but they may have to buy multiple detectors for multiple locations.

“You would have to put them in every bathroom, locker rooms, anywhere a student has access where a student has limited supervision,” Raley said. “You are talking a lot of money and that is strictly for the product. That doesn’t include wiring and insulation. That is a lot of money for a district to ante up.”

The Centers for Disease Control reported that vaping continues to cause serious “E-cigarette, or Vaping Product, Use Associated Lung Injury” and death across the United States. By February 2020, at least 2,800 cases and more than 60 deaths were reported to the Centers for Disease Control. The information said 15% of the cases were under the age of 18 and more than 35% were between the age of 18 to 24.

According to America’s Poison Centers, there has been a significant increase in exposure cases related to vaping. The data shows about 1,500 cases were reported for all ages in 2013. As of Oct. 31, poison centers have managed over 5,400 exposure cases about e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine this year alone.

Raley believes a factor in the growth is accessibility and sweet, candy-like flavors that apparently target youth. He has observed vapes or electronic cigarettes “readily available” at multiple vape shops that are now “in every city” and in convenience stores. 

“There are so many flavors out there that are appealing to kids,” Raley said.

Raley said some of the vendors do not check identification and had concerns about the ease in which someone could purchase a vape for youth and that youth can hide unlike a cigarette.

“They’ve got them where they look like a marker and pen, so they are easy to conceal,” Raley said. “If you aren’t thinking about it, then most of the time they are not going to get checked.”

To help combat the problem, Raley educates the school children about vape oil ingredients, which can sometimes contain potentially harmful chemicals or illegal ingredients, including Fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration said is 50-100 times stronger than morphine.

“When you break it down and look at it, it’s bad,” Raley said. 

Nicotine can be harmful to youth because one’s brain continues to develop until about age 25, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control. Experts and officials are still studying the long-term effects of vaping, including on mental health.

“Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control,” Centers for Disease Control information said. “Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses – are built between brain cells.

“Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine changes the way these synapses are formed. Using nicotine in adolescence may also increase risk for future addiction to other drugs.”

Parent involvement

Raley, whose parents previously smoked and died from lung cancer, provides examples during his presentation of people who have experienced negative outcomes from vaping, including one mother who he said was hospitalized in a coma with pneumonia-like symptoms.

Raley and health officials encourage parents to help their children by becoming a “positive example” for them.

“A student walked up to me in tears,” Raley said, reflecting on a moment after a presentation about vaping. “ He (the student) said, ‘both of my parents vape and I have begged them to stop.’ I said, well, don’t give up. Tell them what you experienced today and you want them to be around in your future.”

“The parents need to understand too that some of them are not helping the situation, especially if they are vapers,” Raley added.

Crime Stoppers of Southeast Texas and some health officials want parents to get involved. The Centers of Disease Control offers tips for parents to have a conversation with children about vaping.

School districts offer safety meetings and a lot of information that parents may not realize is available about issues such as vaping, Raley said. He’s observed low attendance, yet he still hears parents and guardians complain and question what is going on at school campuses.

“The way to find out is to be a part of your school,” Raley said. “Imagine if every student’s parent or guardian cared enough about their kid to know what is going on and to know how to help the school. There hasn’t been great turnouts when we are speaking about them and telling them what is going on.”


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