Vt. schools continue to address teen vaping epidemic

Teens continue to get their hands on vape products and are still using them in school.
Published: May. 29, 2023 at 5:31 AM EDT
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HINESBURG, Vt. (WCAX) - Teens continue to get their hands on vape products and are using them in school, causing concerns for Vermont school and health officials statewide.

The latest data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2021 shows 16% of high school students reported vaping in the last 30 days.

At Champlain Valley Union High School, one of the largest schools in the state, officials say students are caught vaping weekly. “Some students are maybe getting caught a couple of times in a row. I think what that means is we know that they have an issue, and so what we are trying to do is work with them to address that issue,” said Matthew Meunier, a student assistance program counselor at CVU.

The Champlain Valley School District is one of 23 districts taking advantage of state funding to implement a program called Kids Against Tobacco. It’s decades old, but was reinstated in CVSD last year. Menuier said they are continuing the program for at least two more years. “Working to figure out how we’re going to address the issues with student vaping in our district, and so that includes trying to figure out if our vape detectors -- something that we want to put into schools -- how do we change our policies to be more open and not be so punitive,” Meunier said.

He said leaders meet weekly to discuss approaching student vaping habits with the school community and families. He says the hardest thing to do is prevent students from getting vapes in the first place, but that many have tried it before they choose to do it at school. He said that’s why getting treatment and support to help kick the habit is vital, especially now that schools are working to recover from the pandemic. “People are probably feeling a little bit healthier. Now, our eyes are back on to -- how do we start to attack some of these substance use issues that we know, over the pandemic have probably gotten a little bit more severe for students,” Meunier said.

Rhonda Williams with the Vermont Department of Health said increased vaping use is associated with age and that the vaping landscape is everchanging and quite powerful. “Different vaping products and flavors and the nicotine content and these vaping devices have gone up over a three-year time period. And that means youth may not even be aware of how much nicotine they’re being exposed to,” she said.

Williams said examples of vaping impacting learning include classroom disruptions and even in some scenarios, bathrooms closing. She also says despite the belief that nicotine can help with anxiety, experts agree it’s actually the opposite. “If you’re seeing mental distress in your youth community, in your in your own child, is really to get help and assistance for those youth who may be exacerbating our own mental health through vaping,” said Williams.

Vermont Senators passed a bill this session that would have banned flavored tobacco products and e-liquids but it stalled in the House over concerns about the potential loss of millions in tax revenue from the products. Advocates say they will continue the effort next session.

The vaping data was just one part of the new Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Our Elissa Borden spoke with Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine about some of other takeaways. Watch the interview below.

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