School officials encourage parents to talk with children about vaping

Brandon Paykamian • Nov 23, 2018 at 6:51 PM

The Food and Drug Administration said last week that the use of electronic cigarettes, or “vape pens,” has increased nearly 80 percent among high schoolers and 50 percent among middle schoolers since last year.

Because of this, the FDA proposed new measures restricting and regulating flavored nicotine products used in these devices they say are marketed toward young users. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb strongly condemned the “vaping” industry in a statement last week when he said the administration would “take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing.” 

But it isn’t just national health experts weighing in on their concerns about youth vaping. Local school officials said they, too, have had concerns about this upward trend. Despite the FDA findings, Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Safety and Mental Health Greg Wallace said local students are still savvy about hiding their use of these products from school officials and administrators. 

“We are aware of the growing popularity of vaping, but Science Hill High School has only had limited incidents of vaping this year. Like tobacco, students are hiding their usage. We encourage parents to have conversations with their students about the dangers of vaping,” Wallace said. 

Wallace said school officials find the upward trend troubling.

“Research has shown that nicotine exposure during adolescence and young adulthood can cause addiction and harm the development of the brain. Besides nicotine, vaping exposes users to potentially harmful chemicals. Vaping has gained popularity and the health effects aren’t fully understood,” he said, reiterating the need to educate children about the potential health consequences of vaping. 

Like most school districts, Wallace said Johnson City Schools has policies in place if and when students are caught using tobacco and nicotine products. According to the district’s code of conduct, use or possession of tobacco, “tobacco-related products” and all smoking innovation devices by students on school property is prohibited. Students who violate these rules receive three days of in-school suspension for the first offense; five days and counseling for the second offense; and three days of out-of-school suspension, with the possibility of additional “alternative placement” for any concurrent offenses.

Since the use of e-cigarettes is versatile, Wallace said rules specific to the use and possession of “vape pens” can get tricky. 

“E-cigs may be treated as drug paraphernalia when appropriate, and there are additional consequences for those involved in athletics and co-curricular activities,” he said. 

While other schools have similar policies for students using tobacco and “tobacco-related” nicotine products, Washington County Schools officials have been specifically concerned about the rise in vaping among students, according to James Murphy, assistant director of discipline. 

Murphy said school officials have noticed a continual annual increase in the number of vaping devices confiscated in district high schools, though he did not specify which high school has witnessed the most.

“In (the) 2016-17 school year, we saw five in each high school. In 2017-18, it grew from three more in one high school and five in another,” he said, adding that one school has reported about 20 this year.

Murphy said county school officials are looking into revising policies specific to e-cigarettes, adding he is concerned the devices could be used as “another way to sneak drug use into the schools.”

“We’re considering asking the board to change the policy to make vapes a possible drug paraphernalia offense,” he said. “We don’t know what’s used in all of these vapes and we suspect there might be some drug use involved with them.” 

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