Summerville High School will host a Parent Education Night on youth vaping and drug use at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

In the past three months, three Sonora High School students were sent to the hospital from overdosing on the nicotine-infused vapor from e-cigarettes.

“They're vaping until they get the buzz and they don't realize it's going to be absorbed in their system for the next hour or so. They don't know it's going to get ugly,” said Sonora Union High School District Superintendent Mark Miller.

Over the past school year, there have been more than 50 cases of students bringing or using e-cigarettes, commonly known as vapes or vape pens, to campus, said Sonora High School Principal Ben Howell.

The incidents come in spurts, he said. This week, three incidents were uncovered involving groups of students vaping together.

The vapor, often odorless (if not flavored like bubblegum, candy or the tropics), is quick to dissipate. Students often share them — puffing while hidden in parking lots, bathrooms or the back of the school bus.

Students believe it’s no longer trendy to smoke cigarettes, especially when they can vape instead.

“The big problem with vaping of course as opposed to smoking is it's almost undetectable unless you see the kid with the pen in his mouth,” Miller said.

The teen vaping epidemic — a national phenomenon — has spurred administrators and county public health officials to schedule education nights for the community.

Most of the time, the effort is less focused on punishment, and more on getting students to give it up.

Kristina Herrera, program specialist with Tuolumne County Public Health, said the primary concern about youth vaping was the high probability of developing nicotine addiction at an early age.

She said the use of vaping devices was believed to cause respiratory illnesses and developmental disorders in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which deals with attention, reasoning and memory.

According to an annual state survey of high schoolers, 21 percent of ninth graders and 33 percent of eleventh graders said they’ve tried an e-cigarette product, 11 percent of ninth graders and 13 percent of eleventh graders have used the product in the past 30 days.

Steve Green, owner of Mountain Vapors at 83 South Stewart Street in Sonora, said student and parent education programs were a net positive, as long as it kept minors from trying nicotine products in the first place.

“I’ve said this since I’ve opened my shop. Vaping is meant to help smokers quit smoking. I smoked two and half packs for 35 years. Nothing worked until I tried vaping. Do I think kids should vape? No.”

The age for selling nicotine product is 21 in California. Oftentimes, Green said, he has to turn away minors who don’t have identification. He said he used an identification scanner which costs him $60 a month just to make sure he’s in compliance.

Green said he started smoking cigarettes when he was 13. He believed the vape attraction was likely the same for him when he was young: rebellion

“Part of it is adults telling them not to do it,” he said.

The data provided by Herrera indicates vape use is comparatively smaller than those who have tried any kind of marijuana product, but higher than cigarettes.

Kellene Ditler, principal of Summerville High School, said a staff member and an on-campus Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputy were trained to identify whether the vapes confiscated from students were loaded with nicotine fluid or cannabis products, which include CBD oils or the psychoactive substance THC.

“It is a concern on our campus, we have seen an increase,” she said. “One of my biggest

concerns is that the advertisements really do appeal to youth.”

Ditler said she did not have the information readily available to determine how many incidents occurred on campus in the past year.

“If kids have been smoking or smoking marijuana you can smell it on their person, with the vape, you can’t,” Ditler said.

Discipline at both schools is focused on education, administrators said.

Sometimes students are suspended, but neither school has an immediate expulsion policy for having or using a vape.

Vaping use has crept into the lower grades, though administrators said it's far less common.

Belleview Elementary School Superintendent/Principal Carla Haakma said a student was found with a vape pen at lunch.

“For us, it's an isolated incident,” she said.

Haakma said she planned to attend a Parent Education Night on youth vaping and drug use at Summerville High School on Tuesday so she could learn more about what the devices are and how to detect them.

“I want to make sure I’m not naive,” she said.

Soulsbyville Elementary School Superintendent/Principal Jeff Winfield said his school expanded their no tobacco policy to include vapes at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.

Administrators have responded twice to incidents where students were using vapes this year, he said.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.