The Garden's State's largest health network is investing $1 million dollars in a comprehensive strategy to combat vaping among middle school and high school students.

"The statistics that are out there now are really only the tip of the iceberg," Bob Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, told New Jersey 101.5. "If we can make a mark now and take some action, hopefully we can avoid some worse tragedies down the road."

Those statistics include a 78% one-year increase in high school students who reported using e-cigarettes, along with a 50% jump among middle school students, and the fact that two-thirds of adolescents who vape believe they're only inhaling flavors — not nicotine or anything potentially dangerous, according to the federal government.

At the same time, health officials nationwide are aware of approximately 1,300 lung injury cases associated with the use of vaping products, including 32 in New Jersey. More than two dozen individuals, including a woman in New Jersey, died from these injuries.

Garrett said the network's emergency departments and physician's offices are seeing the problem firsthand as well.

One-fifth of the million-dollar Take Vape Away campaign, Garrett said, will be devoted to a grant program that offers funding for school districts and community organizations to institute measures to combat vaping, such as buyback programs for vaping devices or educational outreach.

Fifty-thousand dollars will help train 50 nurses who will reach students at 100 schools "to alert them of the perils of e-cigarettes," the health network said.

Three-quarters of the money will help launch a public health study to identify the health impact from vaping, and best practices to combat the epidemic.

"We are calling on all health networks and youth community groups to join in our effort because the scope and scale of this problem will require all of us to engage," Garrett said.

Hours after the health network's announcement, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield provided $100,000 to help support the campaign's grants for schools and organizations.

Earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy endorsed a state task force's recommendations that flavored electronic smoking devices and products be banned in New Jersey.

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