Vaping in School is a Growing Problem

Photo by Vaporesso on Unsplash

Education is the main way to tackle it, administrators believe.

James Monroe High School held a mandatory assembly for all grade levels about the dangers of vaping earlier this month, following a number of health emergencies at the school.

“It appears there’s lots of vaping going on in the bathrooms,” Matt Eberhardt, deputy superintendent, told the Advance last week. “We wanted to have an assembly with all of the kids to let them know 1) it’s illegal and breaking school rules and 2) vaping is not good for your health. We don’t know what they’re putting in there that is going into your lungs.”

At the assembly, representatives from the Rappahannock Area Office on Youth shared information about the considerable harms associated with vaping and substance abuse. Students learned about the dangerous health risks and the legal consequences involved, and about the intervention and prevention programs offered by the Office on Youth.

Eberhardt said it’s hard to track how many students are use vape products in school because of the way students are using these products—in bathroom stalls.

In the city school division, which has one middle school and one high school, there have been 36 instances so far this year of tobacco use, possession, or distribution, which includes vaping, on school property.

This is up slightly from 34 last year, and Eberhardt stressed that it’s likely vastly under representative of the prevalence of vaping.

In addition to the health concerns posed by tobacco, school administrators are also concerned about the ramifications of vaping in bathrooms.

“There’s a hygiene issue with this,” Eberhardt said. “What we know is that kids are setting down these vapes in bathrooms, which are not the cleanest places, and then sharing them with others.”

Vaping is also a concern in Spotsylvania County. At the April 8 meeting of the Spotsylvania School Board, division staff shared vape and tobacco offense data going back to the 2018-19 school year and showing that the total number of these offenses is up over pre-pandemic years.

In 2018-19, there were 266 tobacco-related offenses in the division, which has five high schools and seven middle schools, and 198 the following year. Data was skewed for 2020-21, the COVID year, but the number of tobacco-related offenses jumped to 349 in 2021-22 and 386 in 2022-23.

As of February, there had been 267 tobacco and vape offenses in Spotsylvania this year.

According to the most recent disciplinary report presented to the Stafford School Board, there were eight tobacco and vaping offenses in the eight county middle schools and 16 in five county high schools last month.

In January of this year, there were 9 offenses in middle schools and 19 in high schools.

Youth vaping is “an epidemic”

According to an article published last year in the Public Library of Science, vaping or e-cigarette use among teens and young adults is more prevalent now than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia ranks 35th in the country for its rate of teen vaping, with just under 20% of high school students reporting use of the products, but its tobacco and nicotine prevention polices are among the worst in the country, receiving a grade of F from the American Lung Association.

The ALA, in its 2023 State of Tobacco Control, gave Virginia failing grades for statewide prevention programs, its smoke-free air laws, its state tobacco taxes, and its efforts to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products.

The state received a D for its coverage and access to services for quitting tobacco use.

In 2022, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced that Virginia would receive $16.6 million from JUUL Labs, which makes flavored tobacco products, as part of a settlement reached between the company and 35 states and territories.

Miyares called youth vaping “an epidemic” and promised that his office would “continue to go after and hold accountable companies that market addictive products like e-cigarettes to minors, with no concern for their health or well-being.”

Nicotine has many well-documented negative health effects, but e-cigarettes contain chemicals in addition to nicotine that are equally problematic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the aerosol that users breathe in and exhale can contain “ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs; flavoring such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds; cancer-causing chemicals; and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.”

According to the CDC, last year one out of every 22 middle school students and one out of every 10 high school students reported that they had used an e-cigarette within the past 30 days.

The CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey seeks to understand why teens are using e-cigarettes. According to results of the 2021 survey, 58% percent of middle and high school students use because their friends do, 48% because they were curious, 25% due to feeling “anxious, stressed, or depressed,” 23% to get a nicotine high, and 18% because a family member does.

“It’s a community issue and a family issue”

Eberhardt said he knows students aren’t vaping only at school.

“It’s not just a school issue, it’s a community issue and a family issue,” he said. “The community needs to come together and help kids understand that they shouldn’t be doing this. Families need to make sure their kids aren’t vaping.”

Because vaping is so easy to hide, Eberhardt said, it’s going to take preventative education, rather than disciplinary measures, to attack the problem.

“Schools and parents need to be letting kids know that there is a significant sanitary issue with the way they’re doing this,” he said. “The community needs to help educate the kids.”

Spotsylvania County Public Schools offers a 3-4 hour virtual course titled VapeEducate. Division spokeswoman Rene Daniels said the course includes education on the health risks of e-cigarettes, how companies market their products to youth, and what vape addiction looks like, and includes pre- and post-content tests, mini assessments, and critical thinking essays.

The division also offers Vape Intervention Group Counseling, which is in-person with the Rappahannock Area Office on Youth. It takes place over five evening sessions for a total of 7.5 hours.

This fall, the school division will host a Vaping Awareness event in conjunction with the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office and Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center.

Managing Editor and Correspondent