Vt. schools leaders say students are vaping again at school
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As schools return to a pre-pandemic way of operation, so do everyday issues that existed before COVID. That includes vaping and the use of e-cigarettes.
School leaders say they first noticed the issue in 2018 when students were vaping in the bathroom.
Vapes are electronic, vapor cigarettes that contain nicotine and some brands include flavors. Unlike in 2016, some vapes today are produced to be disposable, an aspect school leaders says is another hurdle when it comes to monitoring and eliminating the practice among youth.
School leaders say teen vaping is commonly done hidden in plain sight, like in the bathroom.
Middlebury Union High School Principal Justin Campbell says they recently installed vaping sensors when doing an overhaul of school technology.
“It’s certainly something we deal with a couple of times a month, maybe you know, this as sort of an incident that is popping off where we’re, we’re catching a student who’s vaping but I’m sure it happens more frequently than that,” said Campbell.
Back in 2018, students caught vaping or selling e-cigs at MUHS would get a ticket. But since Campbell joined the team in 2021, he says they don’t do that anymore. Now, if a student is caught vaping, there are consequences for violating the student handbook. Students will also speak to prevention specialists about substance use.
“That’s kind of separate and apart from the sort of more disciplinary consequences but hopefully, helping students make good, good safe choices,” said Campbell.
Campbell also says vaping is a large part of the health curriculum, and they’re also focusing on social and emotional well-being as students return to pre-pandemic schooling.
Conversations are also underway in the Champlain Valley School District, where vaping is also a policy violation. Vaping was already noted in the high school, but recently it was found in the middle school.
“I’m not talking about large numbers, but still it’s something that we didn’t see before this year,” said Amy Sayre, CVSD student assistant program counselor,
Sayre and Matt Meunier, another counselor, say vaping appears to be a social activity that students do to fit in, and they wonder if a tricky few years of social isolation due to the pandemic might be playing a role in a younger age uptick.
At the middle school level, a health department grant is allowing the district to restart “Vermont kids against tobacco” groups, where they discuss the industry and its marketing techniques.
“What we want to do is be able to, like have open dialogue around this issue. With everybody, right, with students, first and foremost, because I think that’s where our work is most important and you know, obviously, those are the ones at risk, but also parents,” said Meunier.
Students caught vaping meet with counselors like Sayre and Meunier where they try to understand the “why.”
“We’re really working on developing relationships with them and creating a response that makes them feel comfortable that they can come to us and be honest,” said Sayre.
The most recent data about vaping from the Vermont Department of Health is from 2019 and states that 50% of Vermont high school students have tried a vape product, and a third of those vape daily. The department reports vaping increases mental health symptoms and it can interfere with learning, mood and memory. They note students who participate in a minimum of one hour of extracurricular activities a week are vaping at lower rates.
Lisa Osbahr, the Tobacco Control Program information director at the Vermont Department of Health, says the aerosol produced by a vape contains nearly 20,000 chemicals, some of which could lead to respiratory illness or lung injury.
“We don’t know really how the pandemic will have changed vaping rates. We suspect that it will likely show an increase in daily use, which again is an indication of addiction and youth addiction ends up being a lifelong issue,” said Osbahr.
She and her team work with schools and provide them with resources to create vape-free policies on campus. They say they’ve also heard some schools are overwhelmed with students vaping, some going as far as removing their bathroom doors.
Osbahr says they’ll be delivering a toolkit to schools in the new year that will help schools address vaping.
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