Schools fret as teens take to vaping, even in class
Sneaking a cigarette in the school bathroom? How quaint. Today’s teens have taken to vaping, an alternative to smoking that’s so discreet they can do it without even leaving the classroom.
Health and education officials across the country are raising alarms over wide underage use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.
The devices heat liquid into an inhalable vapor that’s sold in sugary flavors such as mango and mint – and often with the addictive drug nicotine. They’re marketed to smokers as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, but officials say they’re making their way to teens with surprising ease.
A new wave of smaller vapes has swept through schools in recent months, officials say, replacing bulkier e-cigarettes from the past. It’s now common in some schools to find students crowded into bathrooms to vape, or performing vape tricks in class.
“We’ve seen significant increases across the student body,” said Robert Keuther, principal at Marshfield High School on the south shore of Massachusetts. “This is not something specific to one group of kids. It’s across all of my grades, nine to 12. It’s all students.”
Vaping devices are difficult to detect for schools, often leaving behind only a quick puff of vapor and a light fruity scent. Students get away with it in bathrooms, halls and even classrooms, where some say they exhale the vapor into their shirts.
Although buying e-cigarettes is illegal under age 18 – and some states have bumped the minimum age to 21 – students say they can buy them online or from older friends. Some say there are dozens available for sale in school hallways at any given time.
The rise of teen vaping has sparked concern among parents, politicians and federal health authorities, who Tuesday announced a nationwide crackdown on underage sales of e-cigarettes.
The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to retail stores as part of its new operation against illegal sales.
Many schools are pushing back with education campaigns against vaping. Health and gym classes feature new lessons on potential risks. Teachers are being trained on what to look for. Schools are producing online videos on the dangers of e-cigarettes.
At some schools, vaping penalties have been raised to an automatic suspension. Several in New Jersey now require drug tests for offenders, partly because vapes can dispense marijuana.