By Esme Murphy

HOPKINS, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz was at Hopkins High School Tuesday morning hearing from students about the vaping epidemic.

Joining the governor were top state officials, including the Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and the commissioners of education and health.

The stop at Hopkins High School is the first on the governor’s listening tour on vaping. He will also be going to high schools in St. Cloud and Faribault later this week to hear from more students.

A recent state survey found that more than one in four high school juniors are vaping regularly, and more than one in 10 eighth-graders are, too.

The Hopkins students gave the governor and other state officials an earful. They said they would like to see more support for students when it comes to mental health counselors, as well as more assistance in breaking the vaping habit once they’re addicted.

Students told the state leaders the numbers in the state survey are way too low. The reality is that many more students are vaping than the survey reported. Walz said he was at the school to learn more.

“We are not coming here to deliver a ‘just say no’ message that is unsophisticated and doesn’t work,” Walz said.

The students made it clear vaping is a major problem.

“I know some kids who didn’t want to go to the bathroom because they were scared that kids might be in there vaping,” student Jens Dohse said.

Claire Hering, a student who takes advanced classes, talked about what a hard time she had quitting vaping.

“When I went to class after trying to stop, I wasn’t even able to concentrate on what I used to easily be able to do. I felt like I was losing my sanity,” Hering said.

Other students said vaping was so common that many students even do it in class.

“If you can hold your breath long enough, no one will notice that you are essentially smoking a cigarette in class,” said student Will Gitler.

Students say prevention efforts need to go beyond brightly colored posters.

“The things I am taking away is no more dumb posters,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said.

Walz says he would like to see a ban on flavored e-cigarette products, but he doesn’t have the legal authority to impose the ban himself. A ban on flavored e-cigarette products is expected to be proposed in the 2020 Minnesota legislative session. The legislature is also expected to take up a ban on all tobacco and e-cigarette sales to any under 21.

Currently, more than 40 Minnesota communities have similar bans.

Esme Murphy