WESTPORT — With the number of vaping-related illnesses continuing to climb, and Connecticut lawmakers poised to ban most flavored e-cigarette liquids, communities have started to grapple with what some are calling a youth epidemic.

On Wednesday, the Westport Human Services and Wesport Prevention Coalition hosted a presentation on vaping at town hall to address the dangers and ways families can prepare their kids for the growing trend.

“Vaping has become one of the most pressing issues facing our young population,” said Kevin Godburn, Westport’s youth services program director. “It’s something that’s ripped national headlines and we certainly feel it here at the local level.”

Tricia Dahl, a senior Research Assistant at Yale University School of Medicine, said the increase in adolescence substance abuse from 2017 to 2018 was the largest recording in 43 years.

In a 2018 study 21 percent of high school seniors were recorded having used nicotine in a 30-day time frame, nearly doubling the 11 percent recorded in 2017.

“This data shows one in five seniors are vaping. We just heard from the FDA that preliminary release from 2019 data results shows more than one in four,” Dahl said.

Vaping was the third most common form of substance use in high school seniors and 10th graders after alcohol and marijuana. It was also the second most common for eighth graders after alcohol, Dahl said.

She noted one of the many dangers associated with vaping is the high concentration of nicotine that can be found in Juuls, rechargeable e-cigarettes used for vaping. Most kids are even unaware of the concentration of nicotine.

“We have kids that do our research studies who have never touched a cigarette before and are vaping the equivalent of one pod in about a day to a day and a half,” she said. “That’s the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for someone who has never touched a cigarette before.”

In attendance for the event included parents, students, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg who spoke about state legislators’ role in deterring vaping.

“We’re really trying to stamp it out for underaged kids,” said Steinberg, who also chairs the public health committee for the General Assembly.

Starting in October, Connecticut residents will have to be 21 to purchase tobacco or vaping products. While a ban on flavors for e-cigarettes did not occur last year, Steinberg said legislators are prepared to make a move.

“If they don’t do anything on the federal level we will do it on the state level no later than next spring,” he said.

Westport has also made moves to address vaping.

Maggie Burchill, a student assistance specialist at Caron Treatment Centers, said she was hired by the town to lead groups in nicotine cessation starting in October. The program is called Project Connect and will be ran by the Human Services Department.

“It’s research based. It’s tested and it’s based on stages of change,” Burchill said. “It’s cognitive behavioral therapy.”

She added if kids have a drive to quit, studies have shown the program to have a high success rate.

With a variety of flavors and companies spending nearly $200 million a year in youth-directed advertising, Dahl said it’s important parents are honest and communicative with their kids.

She added the scope of dangers attached to vaping, which is sometimes called a “healthy alternative” to smoking, should also be fully explained to children

“If this is going to be advertised, tell them everything,” Dahl said. “It’s just not fair the information being told to them.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com