COLUMBUS, Ind. – Two years after CBS4 revealed hundreds of Central Indiana students had been caught vaping in their classrooms, we’re finding out where some of those minors are getting their product.

Newly obtained data shows the Food and Drug Administration has either warned or cited 491 Indiana stores for selling vape products to minors since 2018. About 309 were gas stations or convenience stores.

An excise police spokesperson explained what officers do via email:

“The Indiana State Excise Police conduct thousands of Tobacco Compliance Check Inspections (TCC) statewide every year. Briefly, TCC inspections are conducted by excise officers accompanied by youth under 21 years old who attempt to purchase tobacco and e-liquid products at licensed retail tobacco establishments. More information on this inspection program, including yearly inspection data and business violations, can be found at https://www.in.gov/atc/isep/tobacco-enforcement/tobacco-compliance-checks-program/.

Our enforcement tracking data does not differentiate between the different types of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, e-liquids, smokeless tobacco, etc.) sold to or possessed by minors.”

The FDA maintains a Compliance Check Inspections of Tobacco Product Retailers database. A search from January 1, 2019 to April 18, 2022 on sales of ENDS/E-liquids to minors turned up 379 inspections. Those are mapped below.

Map from FDA Compliance Check Inspections of Tobacco Product Retailers database.

Below is a complete list of the inspections, with information on the locations, decision date and the results of each inspection which were either a warning letter or civil money penalties.

CBS4 speaks with students about what they’re seeing and experiencing in school

“I feel like it’s pretty accessible to kids our age,” Joseph Warfield, an 8th grader in Columbus, said.

“Do you know people that vape?” CBS4 Anchor Angela Brauer asked.

Both Warfield and his friend, Sage Fuller – a 7th grader in Columbus – nodded.

“Where are they getting that product?” Brauer asked.

“I feel like it’s from a lot of people’s older siblings or they have older friends. A lot of times, it’s people who can drive cars and go into tobacco shops. I feel like a lot of teenagers, like, 18-year-olds or some of them are still in high school and they’ll work at these places and then you can go into these places with your friend who is a senior and then be like, ‘I want this.’ And he’s like, ‘alright, you’re my buddy, you can have it,’” Warfield explained.

“There are also a gas stations and whatnot, just small businesses, that are completely cool with underage selling,” Fuller added.

“So you know people that just walk into a gas station, get it and buy it, no problem?” CBS4 pressed.

“Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t,” Warfield said.

Both students agreed, students are vaping inside and outside of school. In the past, they claim they have seen elementary-aged kids vaping.

“It happened all the time,” Warfield insisted.

“There were people even selling in 6th grade,” Fuller said.

CBS4 asked where in the school kids are vaping. The students said it often happens in the bathroom, since there is no supervision. Sometimes, though, kids are vaping in the back of the classroom.

“A lot of times, teachers don’t really notice it,” Warfield explained.

Fuller said teens and kids also have a trick where they can swallow the smoke and hide their vape from authorities.

“If you take it back, they like lung-inhale it,” the students said. “So they just like, do it and instead of puffing a cloud, they just swallow it.”

According to Warfield and Fuller, those who vape do it to ease stress and fit in with certain crowds. Others have become addicted.

“It’s not a long-lasting high,” they said. “It’s for like five minutes. You’re really up there and then it just drops.”

The students are now a part of the group, “VOICE.” It urges other youth to remain vape-free.

Some Indiana schools are taking action

CBS4 wanted to know what some schools are doing to curb the vaping epidemic. It turns out some are now installing vape monitors in their hallways and bathrooms.

“The smart sensors have been a great addition to our school,” Kurt Frederick, Assistant Principal at Westfield High School, said. “There are a lot of reasons these vape sensors were essential. They track noise, fire, air quality, but predominantly we did install them so that we could curb some of that habit we saw our students facing with the vaping.”

Frederick said administrators expected to catch about 100 violations throughout the school year but have identified 26 so far.

“If they are doing it during the school day, we say that’s a concern because that probably indicates there is a habit,” Frederick said.

The sensors have certain thresholds that it collects. If something exceeds those levels, staff and Westfield High School’s security team receives an alert. In fact, Frederick received a text message about someone vaping in the restroom the morning CBS4 was on campus.

Frederick said if a student is caught vaping, they’ll receive a citation and have to complete a tobacco education class. In some cases, they will have to appear in court.

Assistance is available for other Hamilton County school districts

The Hamilton County Commission on Alcohol and Other Drugs helped pay for two of Westfield High School’s sensors. Now, it is offering other districts assistance as well.

“Noblesville High School also has them,” Monica Greer, from the Hamilton County Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, confirmed. “We have two school corporations that have submitted applications so my board will review those next month.”

Greer said the council doesn’t have enough funding to supply every sensor, but that it can help supplement.

If a district is interested in applying for a grant, they can visit the Hamilton County Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs’ website.