MESA, AZ — Do you know if your child is vaping? It is probably a talk you should be having with them, as soon as they start middle school.
School resource officers all over the Valley have been seizing all kinds of vaping devices from students, on school grounds. While that has been going on for quite some time, there is heightened concern and awareness now, because of all of the vaping related illnesses and deaths reported across the country.
A new study released today by the Mayo Clinic highlights the dangers of “direct toxicity” found in lung biopsies from patients with vaping related lung illnesses.
At East Valley Academy, Mesa police school resource officer Laura Cervantes said, taking on this new role on campus really opened up her eyes to what a hot topic vaping was at schools. She is now on a mission to educate and warn her students about the risks involved with vaping, among other drug use.
Officer Cervantes said she sees kids vaping in the bathrooms, even inside the classrooms and the devices are so small they're easy to hide.
"They look like little USB ports, they're so small they can put them anywhere," said Cervantes.
She worried about where the children were getting these devices, and if they were aware of the dangers of the toxic chemicals they could be inhaling.
Officer Cervantes said the cartridges she was seizing were not just the fruity flavors like strawberry, grape, bubba gang, or mango tango.
"The ones I have found have marijuana wax in them," said Cervantes.
Residue from Hashish, CBD and even THC, which are all illegal to possess on school grounds. THC cartridges bought off the streets or from some smoke shops have also been linked to some of the vaping related illnesses around the country, according to the CDC.
One of those victims of vaping was Blake Keith, a Texas man with ties to Chandler, Arizona.
The father of three has been hospitalized for almost two weeks.
"I was on life support for a whole week, I was asleep," Keith said.
Keith said it all started with flu like symptoms and difficulty breathing. Doctors have now diagnosed him with chemical Pneumonia, linked to vaping.
Keith said he wants to dedicate his life to now warn others, especially children about the dangers of vaping.
"You should never take liquid, burn it and put it in your lungs, then expect your lungs to process it. That's just my opinion," said Keith.
Keith admits some of the cartridges he smoked were THC cartridges he had purchased from people on the streets, as they were not legally available in Texas, but he worried about what other chemicals out there could be getting others sick.
"Liquid is liquid. It doesn't matter what is in the liquid. THC, Nicotine, or Advil. Liquid does not belong in your lungs and your lungs are not made to process it," said Kristina Keith, Blake's wife.
Keith said he was aware that children were vaping in junior high, and now worried about their health.
"These children, they're 13-14 years old in junior high that are going to die unless we do something about this," said Keith.
He put out a call on social media to ask vapers to turn in their cartridges after sharing his story. Keith said hundreds of cartridges were turned into the health department in Texas, and in a box he left outside his home.
Despite the warnings, many vapers, like Brendan Christiansen said they were not falling for what they called a "hype.”
Christiansen said he started vaping to stop smoking.
"It has helped me a lot, it has helped a lot of people I know," said Christiansen.
"I believe it is a quality control issue. I feel people are just buying bad products," he added.
Brendan said he believed those who stuck to quality products from trusted stores should be fine. The 19-year old did admit to us that he first tried vaping while he was in middle school, and his mother had no idea. Christensen said he got the device from a friend.
"I guess kids do it to be rebellious, others are doing it, it's cool," said Christiansen. He stressed that he would not advocate for children to try vaping at that age.
"There are a lot of brands that do make questionable cartridges. These kids don't know how to discern real ones from fake ones," said Christiansen.
CDC officials and school resource officers like Laura Cervantes worried some of those bad products could end up in the hands of our children.
"So what I would tell those kids is, know what you're doing, know that it's not regulated, and that we don't know exactly what we're putting into our body. Also, be aware that you're taking a risk that might alter your brain for the rest of your life," said Cervantes.
Keith, the man hospitalized after vaping says he hopes to visit schools all over the country to talk about the dangers of vaping once he recovers. He hopes to use his health scare as a platform to educate children and teenagers. If you would like to support the Keith family, click here.
Family members say they've been told by doctors that Keith's recovery is a minute by minute, day by day situation at this time.