Over the past few years, as vaping products have become a popular alternative to smoking, they have also become a problem for schools as administrators try to reign in use of the banned product on campuses.
According to Captain Rick Francis, the District Director of Safety and Security for Seminole County Schools, the problem began around 2018 – and punishments had to be implemented at the state, district and school levels.
“There’s school board policies outlined, as well as student code of conduct, and also state laws for those underage and felonies if found with levels of THC,” Francis said. “Individual schools sometimes add their own punishments as well, such as making kids take a course on learning about the dangers of vaping.”
Typically, school officials will confiscate vaping devices, such as Juuls or rigs, from the student and hold on to them until a parent or guardian can be contacted. Francis says that programs such as informative posters around schools have been helpful to spread awareness to students. The district has also begun to use “vape detectors” at some high schools, with more planned to be implemented pending increased funding.
For some districts, the strategy is more in enforcement than prevention – shown in this video from Orange County Public Schools, a fictional portrayal of a student being arrested for smoking a Juul in the halls of her school.
Teenage vaping has made headlines across the country as patients of the “vaping illness,” as it’s been called, reached over 1,000 this month. According to a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 11, 26 deaths have been recorded from 21 states – with all the victims reportedly having a history of using vaping and e-cigarette products.
“This outbreak might have more than one cause, and many different substances and product sources are still under investigation,” the press release said. “The specific chemical exposure(s) causing lung injuries associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping, remains unknown at this time.”
The median age of patients, according to the release, is 24 years old, with 15% under the age of 18.
What has confounded some researchers is how this seems to be an American problem; other countries aren’t reporting these kinds of health effects from vaping. It could have to do with the fact that some cases of the illness have been linked to black-market oils of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana. In Britain, for instance, these oils and the advertising of vape products are more regulated.
Just how many teens are at risk of nicotine products is still being analyzed. According to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released in September, rates of e-cigarette use among high school sophomores, juniors and seniors doubled over the past two years.
“With 25% of 12th graders, 20% of 10th graders and 9% of eighth-graders now vaping nicotine within the past month, the use of these devices has become a public health crisis,” NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow said in the report.
The most popular e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul, has come under fire in recent months for alleged manipulative marketing practices and a product that, while sold as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, may be just as addictive.
A Juul pod contains liquid filled with nicotine salts, and a single one contains as much of the chemical as a whole pack of cigarettes. Juul also avoids the smell of cigarette smoke with flavors such as mango, mint and cucumber.
Smokefree Teen, a project of the National Cancer Institute, offers advice and guidance on how teenagers can shake off a vaping habit. They recommend that instead of trying to quit cold turkey, teens should pick a date a week or two in the future as their stop date – and try to vape less and less until then. They also advise teens to consider what kind of situations and triggers might compel them to vape.
Teens can also use the quitSTART app to check their progress, manage their nicotine cravings, and get in-the-moment help from experts.