The numbers are stark.

In the last year, vaping among students in high school increased 78 percent nationally from 2017 to 2018, according to the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. Now, more than 20 percent of high school students have used e-cigarettes.

The number of lung injuries caused by vaping has risen to 2,290 in the U.S. as of Nov. 20, an increase of 118 cases from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also reported 47 confirmed deaths in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

It’s a national problem but it has local implications as those who attended a forum on vaping on Nov. 21 discovered. The event, held at Trackside Teen Center, was presented by state Reps. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Tom O’Dea (R-125). A panel of experts and students from Wilton and New Canaan offered their thoughts on what has become a health crisis.

An e-cigarette works with a battery. It often contains a cartridge of liquid nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals — including propylene glycol (antifreeze) and vitamin E acetate — that are converted into a mist the user inhales into their lungs. Some contain THC, the psychoactive compound of marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than 460 e-cigarette brands available.

Dr. Alicia Briggs, interim chair of Norwalk Hospital’s Department of Pediatrics, said many teens “think vaping is less harmful than cigarettes. That is not the truth.”

She said teens are suffering long-term lung injury and vitamin E acetate is one of the most likly culprits. The acetate, she said, is a thickening agent in e-cigarettes that contain THC and when vaped into the lungs can cause direct damage.

Wilton High School student body president Rishabh Raniwala said he knows a lot of kids who “are aware of the dangers but choose to do it anyway because they think it’s not addictive.” He said he believes vaping is becoming more prevalent among younger children and he’s heard of students as young as those in elementary school vaping.

Theo Kammerer, Rishabh’s counterpart at New Canaan High School, said his main concern is the addictive quality of e-cigarettes and that “a lot of kids start because their friends are doing it” and then they can’t quit.

That is the belief Wilton High School Principal Robert O’Donnell wants to quash. “The message I would like to send,” he said, is that rumors that “everyone is doing it — is not the case. We need to provide support for the kids who say ‘I am not doing that.’”

Genevieve Eason, representing the Wilton Youth Council, said her organization is seeking to help students and parents understand the harm that can be done and where to go for help.

To that end, the council is offering two opportunities for the community to learn more at a talk by Elizabeth Jogensen of Insight Counseling called “Vaping: What You Need to Know.” Students in middle and high school, parents of children of all ages and other concerned adults are invited to attend one of two programs:

 Wednesday, Dec. 11, 7-8:30 p.m., at Trackside Teen Center, 21 Station Road. Register at https://vapingwhatyouneedtoknow.eventbrite.com.

 Wednesday, Jan. 15, 10-11:30 a.m., at Wilton Library, 137 Old Ridgefield Road. Register at www.wiltonlibrary.org/events or call 203-762-6334.

Jorgensen was one of the panelists at Thursday’s discussion and said kids are exposed to ads for e-cigarettes through social media sites such as Instagram and entertainment websites. They falsely tell young people that vaping is not dangerous like tobacco cigarettes, she said. However, one pod from the manufacturer Juul can contain as much nicotine as 20 regular cigarettes.

Those most at risk of becoming addicted to vaping, she said, are young people suffering from anxiety or depression. Nicotine, she reminded the audience, is the oldest form of anxiety relief. These students have a more difficult time quitting than those who are doing it for social reasons, she said.

A woman in the audience asked what parents can do to help their child.

Speaking in general terms, Jorgensen said, “Try not to have a punitive approach when you find the devices. The more matter of fact you are, the better it goes.”

She said it is more productive to focus on why they are doing it rather than who they are doing it with. That, she said, is irrelevant, since they can get the e-cigarettes in school, at gas stations and online.

Parents, she said, should ask their child why they vape and if they’ve tried to stop.

“It wouldn’t hurt to get an assessment, because what you are looking for is underlying anxiety or depression,” she said. “Kids are often happy to quit vaping because they’re chained to it.”

New Canaan success

Among the panelists were New Canaan Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi and New Canaan High School Principal William D. Egan. Both said vaping was a huge problem

“Three to four years ago, we’d find Juul pods all over,” Egan said, adding there have been few this year. “I think the national crisis has sparked alarm in kids.”

He explained that students have made PSAs in their classes and he believes they have been effective in reducing the problem in school.

“I have never seen a repeat suspension for vaping,” he said. “It’s truly about the kids owning the problem and turning the tide to where we’re starting to gain.”

Theo Kammerer agreed, saying teens don’t want to listen to authority, but now that “there’s cold hard evidence it’s harmful … it’s a lot more real.”

Nina Rutherford of Wilton Youth to Youth liked the idea of the PSAs. “When you make it yourself it’s more meaningful,” she said.

Kevin Smith, Wilton’s superintendent of schools, said he would like to see a broad public awarness campaign aimed at children. He asked what resources the state legislature can provide.

“In terms of an all-out campaign, funds in that direction would be significantly powerful,” he said. He also suggested banning the flavored packets or taxing them so heavily they are prohibitively expensive for young people.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed Public Act 19-13 which became effective Oct. 1 and increases the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 for cigarettes, other tobacco products and e-cigarettes. It also increases penalties for those selling to underage buyers.

Wilton Police Chief John Lynch said officers know the people who work at gas stations and other places where e-cigarettes are sold and they stop in from time to time.

“Compliance is always an issue,” he said, adding his department will contact the state to schedule compliance checks.

Information on how to help a young person stop vaping or smoking may be found at teen.smokefree.gov and quitnow.net.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle may be reached at Gail.Lavielle@housegot.ct.gov. State Rep. Tom O’Dea may be emailed at Tom.Odea@housegopct.gov. Both can be reached at 800-842-1423.