Battle against student vaping, a priority pre-coronavirus, changes during pandemic

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Vaping and health risks – What you need to know

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

In some ways, the coronavirus pandemic is serving as a smoke screen distraction to the ongoing problem of student vaping.

Some Butler County schools took significant steps toward decreasing the practice in the past few years, but officials say the stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the changes to in-person learning have brought new challenges to an ongoing problem that remains serious.

The latest federal study released in the fall by the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and prevention shows teen vaping has abated somewhat in the last year but remains sizable during the pandemic. Almost 40 percent of high school students who vape are using an e-cigarette on 20 or more days per month, according to the study.

Unlike cigarettes, the largely odorless, extremely portable vaping devices – also referred to as e-cigarettes – are used by a some teens while on school grounds and prompted significant responses by some schools locally.

In April 2019, Hamilton Schools launched the region’s first “shock and awe” vaping detection campaign.

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Hamilton’s unprecedented crackdown on student vaping, mimicked in varying degrees by other area school districts, saw the deployment of hand-held metal detectors to find the metallic vaping devices hidden on students and mandatory drug tests for those caught with the smallish devices.

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But then in early 2020, the pandemic arrived.

Some area school officials told the Journal-News teenage vaping continues, and coronavirus restrictions have made it more difficult to detect.

“We have fewer kids in the schools so you would think that’s fewer kids to vape. But that’s fewer kids to tell on other kids who are vaping,” said Matt Crapo, director of Fairfield student services.

And, said Crapo, “if you only have half the kids in a high school, you have a lot more spots to go vape.”

Serious problem with serious punishments

Vaping devices can allow users to inhale nicotine or a Cannabidiol oil compound derived from cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol in marijuana, CBD does not produce a high but can heighten a user’s calm.

“Our teachers and staff are on high alert for e-cigarette products. The considerable increase of electronic cigarettes and other vaping products among both youth and young adults in recent years, and the research around their harmful effects, is concerning,” said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the 16,800-student Lakota district.

Teenagers are often stressed by relatively normal life. And when you add in a global pandemic, which may directly threaten teens’ health, then seeking stress relief through vaping nicotine or a CBD oil is not surprising, said some Fairfield High School students.

“I feel like many people around me have gotten introduced to vaping as a way of ‘escaping’ their internal pains,” sophomore Daphne Antwi, recently told officials from the Fairfield Prevention Coalition, which surveys students on vaping and other drug use.

“While it is a negative thing, many adolescents find it positive to vape whenever they choose. I feel that these reasons are because of lack of social activity and being trapped inside by this global pandemic.”

Classmate Jessie Schuster, told coalition officials that “I think that because of quarantine and just the craziness of this past year (students) are definitely turning to something they think will help them relieve stress.”

But Schuster added he thinks fewer classmates are vaping in Fairfield High School.

“I definitely have noticed a decrease in vape use at the high school this school year, which is comforting,” he said.

Crapo said regardless of the on-going pandemic, Fairfield will continuing working against vaping, and new detection technology may help.

Vape detectors, similar to smoke detectors, have been created and are now an option for Fairfield Schools to electronically detect the often invisible vapors remotely and react immediate by converging on teens violating the school’s laws.

“The only time you can catch kids vaping is when you catch them in the act,” he said.

Vaping among teens

The Fairfield Prevention Coalition’s most recent student drug use survey of Fairfield students in grades 7-12 shows:

* In 2020, 22 percent of 10-12th grade students reported past 30-day use of using e-vapor products, up from 15 percent in 2018.

* Generally speaking, more female students than male use e-vapor products.

* The “perception of harm” among students about vaping increased from 45 percent in 2018 to 75 percent in 2020.

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