Smoking bans, suspensions and closing bathrooms are among the ways some Kamloops high schools are trying to curb the rise of teenage vaping.
Vaping — which is inhaling and exhaling vapour from a battery-powered device, such as e-cigarettes and Juuls — has become prevalent among students and school administrators are taking greater action given the health risks and nicotine addiction associated with the products.
For Kamloops principals, part of the problem is that students are vaping inside schools — a policy breach that’s easier to conceal than smoking cigarettes as vape pens are small and can produce next to no odour or emissions.
The lack of long-term studies surrounding health impacts and chemicals in the vape juice are among the health concerns of school officials.
Westsyde secondary principal Chris Preymak said he temporarily shut down half of its bathrooms in February in order to better supervise the others more regularly as they kept an eye out for vaping students.
“Most of it [vaping] is in the bathrooms,” Preymak said, noting the school has also held assemblies on the health impacts of vaping.
In addition, a letter to parents is being sent out to advise them of the consequences if students are caught vaping.
“Students that are in possession of or using vaporizers could receive a suspension from school,” Preymak said, noting some students may also be referred to the school counsellor to deal with possible nicotine addiction.
Preymak said traditional smoking in schools isn’t as widespread as vaping.
“It’s a lot more challenging to light up a cigarette and take a couple puffs and put it out than it is to have a vape stuck in your sleeve and take a couple puffs on that,” he said.
He said seeing students vaping indoors during the winter months gave him a sense of how prevalent it is with teens.
Preymak said vaping is also concerning because students could be using cannabis oil, noting the lack of scent emitted from e-cigarettes.
“It really becomes drug paraphernalia at that point,” he said.
Since the bathrooms re-opened, administrators continue to monitor for groups of vaping teens and Preymak said he has noticed a reduction — though he conceded the recent warm weather may be at play.
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That’s why the school district held a parent advisory seminar on Tuesday — the first in what will likely be more educational efforts by SD73.
Keynote speaker Dr. Marvin Krank, a psychology professor at UBC Okanagan, spoke of the health impacts of vaping, as well as online advertising aimed at youth.
In his presentation, Krank said vape juice often contains nicotine and a variety of other chemicals that can be harmful to one’s health. While the health risks may be lower than traditional smoking, that doesn’t mean there’s no risk from vaping, he said, noting all e-cigarettes contain some level of nicotine, which can impact the cardiovascular system and harm brain development in teens.
His advice for parents is to lead by example, set clear expectations that they should not use drugs, monitor their behaviour, be empathetic and suggest healthy alternatives.
At Valleyview secondary, sent home a letter to parents earlier this month advising that the school will now no longer tolerate students smoking or vaping on or around school property given emerging health implications of what was once believed to be a harmless activity.
Valleyview principal Barb Hamblett said vaping has become more common at the school over the years.
“I don’t have any statistics, but visually you can see there’s been an increase,” she said.
When it comes to enforcing a ban on vaping around the school property Hamblett said it’s mostly through conversation, noting students are asking where the defined lines are for where they can’t vape and smoke.
“We’re not being concrete on where the line is on where they can and can’t do that,” Hamblett said. “We’re just trying to get them to a place of understanding that it’s not good for their health and we’re there to support them if they’re addicted.”
Valleyview has also conducted assemblies on vaping and more are on the way that will include RCMP and public health officials, she said.
Hamblett said some students have been vaping in class, but she feels the school’s education campaign is having a positive impact on reducing that activity
“There’s a growing awareness from our staff, student and our parents on the health effects of vaping,” Hamblett said.
Sa-Hali secondary principal Rachael Sdoutz said youth at that school are being caught vaping in the bathrooms and change rooms.
“We hear stories from students that other students are vaping in the back of classrooms during lesson times, but I don’t think my vice-principals have caught anybody doing that at this point,” Sdoutz said.
She said she first noticed the issue about three years ago. While she’s not sure if its any worse than last year, she said vaping has been steady — and it’s a health problem.
“I think it’s a much easier, much more attractive way for young people to get nicotine and I think they’re becoming more addicted than in the past, Sdoutz said, noting there have been more suspensions for vaping this year than last year. The school also has one more vice-principal supervising students this year.
To date, Sa-Hali has sent an advisory letter home to parents on the impacts of vaping and Sdoutz said staff are putting a greater effort into confiscating e-cigarettes and monitoring for vaping.
SD73 administrators have been confiscating plenty of e-cigarettes this year and note kids say they vape because it it’s “cool” and the technology is relatively new and intriguing.
“A lot of them will shrug their shoulders at us — because it’s cool, because they can, it’s not a big deal,” Sdoutz said.
It’s illegal for teens under the age of 18 to access e-cigarettes, but many still do, with some getting them from their parents.
“We’re asking parents don’t share any vapes or vape products with their children,” Hamblett said.
But vaping products are easy to acquire online, as students have attested, noting there are few checks to ensure they are of age to buy one.
Students as young as middle schoolers have tried vaping in SD73 — a popular form being high-nicotine juices — but it’s hard to tell how widespread the activity is among teens.
Preymak said statistics shown at assemblies suggest 25 per cent of teens vape, but some students have suggested it’s much more widespread than that — something Preymak said should be taken with a grain of salt, noting a student who makes such a claim that likely hangs out with a vaping crowd.
“You can’t say that for sure, either, but I think it’s got to be higher than 25 per cent of kids who have at least tried it,” Preymak said.
The Kamloops-Thompson school board has also taken notice.
“We have serious concerns around how vaping is affecting the health of students. There’s no research on the long-term effects, said board chair Kathleen Karpuk.
The district already has a policy banning vaping on school grounds as with traditional smoking.
“I’m not sure we can become any stricter than that,” she said.