As the number of teenagers vaping remains a concern, local school district officials are taking different approaches to address their use on campus.
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control found that 14.3 percent of Idaho high school students used electronic cigarettes at least once a month, compared to the national average of 13.2 percent. In comparison, only 9 percent of students had smoked cigarettes during that same time period.
Idaho law makes it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to purchase or use tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. But at their peak of popularity in Idaho in 2015, a quarter of high school students had recently vaped and many officials believe the number is still higher than reported.
“A lot of the time they aren’t here on campus, and a lot of the time they’re being shared between students,” said Officer Christopher Reed, a school resource officer with Idaho Falls School District 91.
The rise in e-cigarette use has coincided with a decline in the popularity of cigarettes among children and teenagers. Luke Cavener, spokesman for the Smoke Free Idaho campaign, explained that while e-cigarettes have less nicotine than traditional cigarettes, the nicotine and other chemicals they do have are still unhealthy.
“There is a false belief that this is a healthy alternative. And what you’re seeing is students getting addicted to these when their brain is at its most vulnerable,” Cavener said.
School officials are looking into a range of policies to help address the issue. Many districts have rewritten their rules about smoking to specifically ban e-cigarettes from campus. Others are looking into installing “vape detectors,” which operate like smoke detectors but look for the aerosols and trace chemicals released by the major e-cigarette brands.
Bonneville Joint School District 93 plans to include e-cigarettes in its DARE program, teaching fifth-graders about their danger alongside alcohol and opioids. The district’s Director of Safe Schools Gordon Howard said that vaping was a weekly issue when he worked at Lincoln High School and that talking to kids early on could make a big difference.
“By the time some of these students get to high school, they’ve been addicted for years. We want to get to them at that young age to educate them and help them make good choices,” Howard said.
Reed said that students caught vaping in District 91 can face citations or suspensions, but that he instead often tries to talk to the students and their parents about the issue. District 93 also issues tickets or suspensions to students caught smoking on campus.
Teton High School in Driggs implemented a new policy last year that any student caught smoking on campus could take online classes about the dangers of nicotine in order to shorten their suspension for smoking. Principal Samuel Zogg implemented the idea and said that 11 students have taken the class since it began last September.
“I think it’s a starting point. It’s at least a good place to learn. Instead of being suspended or hearing it from me, they can hear it from somewhere else,” Zogg said.
The national rise in e-cigarette use among teenagers has led to increased government scrutiny of the industry. The Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether Juul and other vape companies are able to prevent youth use of their products. Last week Altria, the company behind Marlboro and several vaping products, stopped selling flavored e-cigarettes to help combat the issue of underage use.