Schools Turn to Educating Students About Vaping
Area high school principals consider student use of vaporizing devices that contain nicotine or marijuana an issue on campus that they are addressing through education.
“Kids don’t understand,” said Leominster High School Principal Steven Dubzinski. “It’s the modern cigarette.”
When the vaporizer devices first came out, he assumed they were USB devices, referring to products like those made by company JUUL that can be charged with a computer.
Principals have turned to education for students and parents about the health risks of using vapor products. With traditional cigarettes, it was easier to recognize the harm and link to health issues like cancer.
Dubzinski has sent home emails to help educate student and parents about vaping.
Fitchburg High School Principal Jeremy Roche said after a handful of vaping incidents within a two-week period in February, he spoke with students from each grade level.
There has also been forums at the school to learn from students about where they have seen peers using the tobacco or marijuana vaporizers.
“I don’t think we’re burying our head in the sand,” he said.
Oakmont Regional High School has programming through the school nurse to address and a program about making good decisions, said Principal David Uminski. Speakers have also come to the Ashburnham high school to speak with students.
In 2017, a quarter of high school students reported using tobacco, including e-cigarettes, in the past 30 days, which is down nearly 30 percent in 2015, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is conducted at the state level in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control.
The survey also showed that over 40 percent of students reported using electronic vapor products compared to nearly 45 percent in 2015.
Fitchburg School Committee student representatives Ethan Chandler and Alhana Waqar, juniors at Fitchburg High, talked about concern about vaping on campus at its March 18 meeting.
“I think a lot of people were shocked that people do it in school,” Chandler said. “To a student it’s not shocking because you see it, but to a teacher it might be because you never think they do it in school, but they do.”
Discussions through the Student Advisory Council and have included ways to address the issue, including getting students to stop and understand school rules, Wagar said.
Uminski said that when students at Oakmont are caught using vaping products, it’s often other students who report them.
The challenge with enforcing the use of vapor products is that they don’t leave a smell unless they’re flavored, principals said.
Last year Oakmont had a spike in vape use and an increase in related suspensions, said Uminski, who has been principal for nearly 30 years.
“There is so much parents don’t know about,” he said.
When a student is found with a vapor device, they are confiscated, Uminski said. So far, the school has collected a bag’s worth of various brands of pens, devices, and more.
Fitchburg High also takes students’ vapes and turns them over to their parents or the school resource officer.
Roche said he has been clear with students about what the consequences are for using vaporizers at school: potential disciplinary action and loss of participation with an athletic team or other school extracurricular activities.
In Leominster, discipline depends on the situation, including whether the vape was a flavored product or contained marijuana, Dubzinski said.
They could face suspension, he said, education or support for a student with a nicotine problem would be more of a focus.
Other ways the schools have been clear about expectations are through the student handbook.
Leominster High updated its student handbook to include inhalants and vaping devices, Dubzinski said.
In Fitchburg, vapor products are addressed in the handbook under e-cigarettes, Roche said, but there could be an opportunity to revise that definition.
School resource officers have helped with enforcement by talking with students and monitoring areas on campus where students are known to use vapes, principals said.
The tobacco purchase age in Massachusetts is 21, however, people who turned 18 before the legislation went into effect at the beginning of the year are allowed to make purchases.
In response, some cities and towns including Westminster, have raised their tobacco purchase ages to prevent local sales to young adults under 21.
Gov. Charlie Baker proposed taxes on e-cigarettes and a 40 percent excise tax on wholesale vapor products, which would raise $6 million.
Attorney General Maura Healey called for taxes on e-cigarettes and a ban on flavored vaping products Wednesday.
Her office has been working to limit the marketing of electronic vaping products to minors and launched an investigation into vaping company JUUL to determine whether it intentionally markets to youth and tracks underage use of its products.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.
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