By Stu Harris, Dublin City Schools Board of Education member and, President Ohio School Boards Association Central Region
With flavors like Captain Crunch, Bubble Gum, and Cotton Candy, E-cigarette use aka vaping or “juuling” is pervasive and pernicious among both high schoolers and middle schoolers. Introduced and marketed around 2007, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco products among America’s youth.
The U.S. Surgeon General reports that E-cigarette use among U.S. middle and high school students increased 900% during 2011-2015. In 2018, more than 3.6 million young people in America, including 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students, currently use e-cigarettes.
According to Dublin City Schools Substance Use Counselor Carly George, “Vaping is a huge epidemic and teenagers do not fully understand the health ramifications. There are several reasons for this. First, vaping is new enough that there are very few conclusive studies to show a direct causational relationship between vaping and health problems. Secondly, because the vaping industry markets their product as different from cigarettes--and therefore better-- and not dangerous, kids think this is a safe choice. Thirdly, teenagers developmentally are unable to look forward to see consequences their current actions may have on their futures.”
As this goes to print, news headlines about the health hazards of vaping are increasingly shocking. Across the country, there have been an alarming number of hospitalizations stemming from vaping and tragically several deaths. In response, the Ohio Department of Health issued a severe pulmonary disease advisory to warn about vaping related respiratory symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue that could be progressive and potentially require endotracheal intubation.
What are states doing to quell this problem?
Ohio and other states are working on the issue as well. Ohio recently passed a law prohibiting any tobacco sales to anyone under 21. The new law applies to all tobacco products — from cigarettes to vaping liquids and other accessories involved with smoking or vaping. Ohio is the 18th state, including Washington, D.C., to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. The Ohio Department of Health recently announced that it will allocate $4.1-million over the next two years to increase the educational efforts.
It is clear that more must be done. Recently, the state of Michigan passed legislation to ban flavored tobacco vaping products in an effort to reduce their appeal to teenagers. The federal government is also considering restrictions on flavored tobacco vaping products.
What are school districts doing to quell this problem?
According to the Ohio School Boards Association, the use of vape products is an increasingly difficult problem for school districts requiring effective yet sometimes elusive solutions. OSBA’s Kenna Haycox said most schools have policies they developed prohibiting e-cigarettes, but they are hard to enforce. “It’s the valedictorian, the starting quarterback, it’s the head cheerleader, it’s the head volleyball player, the baseball pitcher. These are good kids, athletes and none seem to worry about health effects of e-cigs,” Haycox said.
Across the country, schools are focusing on a myriad of measures from prohibitive disciplinary measures to proactive education measures focused on health and addiction.
Schools across the country have various levels of incremental responses to vaping with most involving a tiered disciplinary approach with potential suspensions from school and disqualifications for a season from high school sports and extracurricular activities.
Some districts are also installing Wi-Fi-enabled vape detectors. This new form of technology has been adopted by schools in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arizona and Illinois. The sensors are placed in bathrooms and resemble smoke detectors. They are designed to detect e-cigarettes vapor by measuring changes in humidity and air content. Dublin City Schools has considered these devices but has made no determinations regarding them at this point in time.
Central Ohio School Districts
Many districts in Central Ohio are considering proactive measures for all students with a focus on health and addiction rather than on strict disciplinary repercussions.
Many schools understand the vital importance of educating parents about vaping. In Dublin City Schools, the annual Parent University program includes opportunities to educate parents about the dangers of vaping. This course taught by long time Dublin Coffman High School principal and now Superintendent of New Richmond Schools, Tracey Miller, focused on every aspect of vaping including a “show and tell” of a Juul, which is a brand of e-cigarette, where parents can see how it can be concealed anywhere because it is about 4 inches long and looks like a flash drive. Additionally, Miller’s demonstration includes a presentation on how vaping works to see how the vapor dissipates quickly leaving a faint pleasant smell depending on whether the flavor is grape or watermelon or one of the myriads of kid-friendly flavors.
Dublin City Schools has been conducting student vaping awareness/intervention workshops since the beginning of last school year.
Due to the rise of vaping among teens, Dublin City Schools developed an educational workshop specific to vaping by students along with their parent/guardian. Data collected through the 2017 OHYES! survey showed 11.6% of Dublin Schools students in grades 7-12 had vaped within 30 days of completing the survey, up from 9.2% of students in 2015. In addition, code violations for vaping have been on the rise over the past year. In response, staff members provide a monthly workshop specific to building awareness and providing intervention for students who have been recommended to participate.
This strong school to parent communication and commitment to education on these issues continues all through the year with leaders like Kathy Harter at PERC and Sue Hutrus at The Dublin A.C.T. Coalition. Both important community partners in prevention and education efforts.
Peer to peer interactions are also very important. In Dublin, we have groups in school (Teen Institute) and out of school (Dublin A.C.T.), that address vaping. The students in these groups, both middle school and high school, provide education and prevention but not intervention.
This year, Dublin Scioto is going to be doing an anti-vaping initiative in the school starting second quarter and it involves students creating signage and PSAs for morning announcements. Being that it is student-created/student-led, we are hoping for some positive effects and a different perspective.
“As a school district, we use education in classrooms, such as health class, educational talks/trainings for teachers, informational sessions for parents, and prevention and intervention services through our substance use counselors,” George said. “Education and linking with kids to get them the services and help they need takes precedence over solely disciplining them.”
These examples show that more education and counseling on the dangers of vaping, as well as preventative measures, need to be included in schools in order to tackle the rising vaping epidemic among teenagers.
Most importantly, schools and parents must be consistent in their message. At home, a most effective deterrent is to talk regularly with your teenagers about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. These discussions help to diminish the possibility of use and addiction.
We encourage our parents with questions to call Dublin City Schools Substance Use Counselor Dr. Georgiann Diniaco at 614-765-5950.