No school system is naive enough to believe their students aren't doing things they shouldn't. Policies have long stood in place to counteract activities such as smoking and drinking. It's commonplace in the American high school system. However, in the current era, there is a new problem on the rise that is among the hardest to detect by school staff. The use of electronic cigarettes or vaping has become the new smoking, and to lake superintendents, it's even worse.

No school system is naive enough to believe their students aren’t doing things they shouldn’t. Policies have long stood in place to counteract activities such as smoking and drinking. It’s commonplace in the American high school system. However, in the current era, there is a new problem on the rise that is among the hardest to detect by school staff. The use of electronic cigarettes or vaping has become the new smoking, and to lake superintendents, it’s even worse.

E-cigarettes produce an aerosol by heating a liquid that often contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals that help to make the aerosol. This liquid is sometimes called “e-juice,” “e-liquid,” “vape juice,” or “vape liquid.”

While vaping transcends age boundaries, it is something that particularly appeals to teenagers these days but few seem to understand the risks. Ask a group of teenagers and they will tell you that it’s not like smoking cigarettes or marijuana or drinking. Few have read the packaging or looked into what they are ingesting. 

Nicotine and other harmful chemicals are common. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to the health risks from nicotine and other ingredients because their brains are still developing. 

Vaping is relatively inexpensive and like tobacco and alcohol, underage kids always seem to be able to find sources. It’s also easy to conceal. The device is small, can easily be tucked into a pocket and concealed, making it easy to carry and nearly undetectable. 

For Eldon Superintendent Matt Davis, the trend is more disappointing than anything. Davis says the school district does everything they can for students, including changing start times, including a cafeteria salad bar and having a mental health therapist on staff, yet students continue to involve themselves in creating an addiction to nicotine through vaping. 

“It’s frustrating when we are trying to improve a kid’s quality of life, but this comes along and defeats the battle,” Davis said. In the last several years, there has been a concerted effort in Eldon to create a healthier community through education and programs that promote health and exercise. 

Currently, vaping is treated by the staff the same as a tobacco product. A day of in-school suspension will be administered and parents are called to pick up the vaping device. The biggest concern, however, is the detection of drugs in the vapor. Davis says he has encountered vapes being injected with THC, which push the punishment to a new level. The problem is, this is extremely difficult to detect. 

Davis says the best they can do currently is to confiscate any vape and, if they have a strong correlation with drugs within the device, they can turn it over to the police and have them search it for any illegal substance. 

Because proving the liquid is laced with THC is so difficult, Davis hopes to bring together patrons of the school district to help further develop disciplining guidelines. As it stands, if a vape is confirmed to have any drug within, it would result in a 10-day out of school suspension.  

Though he sees less kids using tobacco products, Davis says that the amount of nicotine being injected by students who vape regularly is more dangerous. He worries that, because of the ease of access, this will further into a hard addiction. 

“Kids are smart. They will find ways to get this stuff,” Davis said.

Davis also says he sees the advertising placed on these products, such as Juul pods, as being more aimed at young students. With fruity and playful flavors being advertised for the vaping liquid, he says students have mentioned seeing advertisements more often through social media than any parent he has talked to. 

On the other side of the lake, Camdenton Superintendent Tim Hadfield has felt the same pressure on the district with their own vaping issues. Like Eldon, their policy of vaping lands in the spectrum of tobacco. For a first offense, a student will receive a two-day suspension. After multiple offenses, he says the response would increase. 

Hadfield agrees that this is a growing issue that they are working to correct. He says the number of smoking incidents has certainly decreased over the last couple of years, but vaping incidents are daily. 

The size of the devices used is a major component of the struggle to detect students taking part. He says bathrooms are a major area of use, as well as into sleeves and other materials to dampen the cloud that the vaping produces. The students who get away with it the most are those who use scentless varieties. With many of the flavors producing heavy, easily noticeable scents, he says students tend to steer away from those in order to deflect teachers. 

During the current school year, Hadfield says the district has encountered almost 200 infractions. However, he is certain that they are missing even more due to the difficulty in detection. While the issue is mainly seen in the high school, he says they have encountered use in lower grades. The gender split is no difference, as Hadfield has encountered what he says is a 50/50 split. 

In both school districts, education is being provided against vaping. Davis says that it is about as effective as anything else taught, whether it be drinking or cigarettes. 

The city of Eldon is currently in the process of voting towards raising the age of tobacco product purchases to 21. This will be addressed in the next city hall meeting March 26. That effort has been spearheaded by a group of young people who are hoping to see other communities do the same. 

Hadfield takes a similar stance, saying that the education is being provided, but it is up to staff and faculty to make a bigger impact on stopping this from happening. 

“We know that vaping is an issue,” Hadfield said. “We are trying to not just react to it, but also educate against it.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students has gone up from 2011 to 2018. The CDC reports that nearly 1 of every 20 middle schools students reported in 2018 that they used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days when surveyed and nearly 1 of every 5 high school students said the same. 

E-cigarettes have been marketed as an alternative to cigarettes. Many have turned to them to stop smoking but according to a study by the U. S. Surgeon General’s office, e-cigarettes pose potential health risks to the population as a whole. 

Public Health Impact

• Increase the number of youth and young adults who are exposed to nicotine.

• Lead non-smokers to start smoking conventional cigarettes and other burned tobacco products such as cigars and hookah.

• Sustain nicotine addiction so smokers continue using the most dangerous tobacco products – those that are burned – as well as e-cigarettes, instead of quitting completely.

• Increase the likelihood that former smokers will again become addicted to nicotine by using e-cigarettes, and will start using burned tobacco products again.