Teen vaping: Schools "caught in the middle" of an epidemic

    According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 30-percent of teens ages 13 to 18 in Monroe County have tried an e-cigarette.

    (WHAM) - It’s a call more parents are receiving: Their teen has been suspended from school for vaping, or being caught with an e-cigarette.

    “The last few years, we've seen an uptick in vaping,” said Scott Wilson, Executive Principal at Churchville Chili High School.

    In December, the U.S. Surgeon General declared e-cigarette use among teens an epidemic. One U.S. survey recently found one in five high school seniors is vaping nationwide.

    According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 30 percent of teens ages 13 to 18 in Monroe County have tried an e-cigarette.

    “We have our work cut out for us, and again we spend so much time doing this and we're really here for reading and writing and arithmetic and doing traditional school,” Wilson said.

    Schools on the front line

    Within the last year, district leaders in Monroe County have seen the e-cigarette trend take off.

    “This has happened so fast, and this fad has taken off so quickly that the lawmakers and policy makers are trying to catch up, and school districts are caught in the middle,” said Wilson.

    Bathrooms is the most common place where teens are caught vaping in school.

    “Typically, we get a complaint from staff or kids of the odor in the bathroom, that's the most typical thing,” said Wilson.

    The bathroom is where one mom, who shared her experience with 13WHAM anonymously, said her 15-year-old son is faced with the peer pressure of vaping at school.

    “Kids vaping in the bathroom all day every day is not a safe environment. To know he did something that he doesn't have full control over, it's scary,” she said.

    Punishment is a real part of this issue, and for some teens, it is part of the solution. In many schools, being caught with paraphernalia or using e-cigarettes means a teen will be suspended from school. A punishment that fixes the immediate problem and, for some teens, may be enough to keep them from trying to vape again.

    Churchville Chili Director of Health Physical Education and Athletic Michael Murray is seeing the latter in athletes.

    “I would say, we did have a large number of suspensions last year, we have had less this school year,” said Murray.

    But Wilson knows punishment is not a long-term solution.

    “We have to come at it with discipline we have to come at it with consequences and punishment so kids respect the rules," Wilson said. "We also have to educate our health curriculum is adjusting.”


    Churchville Chili Health Teacher Janelle Hernandez started adding e-cigarettes to her drug unit about three years ago. But with ever-changing research, she finds herself constantly updating students on emerging information about e-cigarettes throughout the school year.

    “I touch on it through the year, it's not like I touch on it for two days and never go back to it,” said Hernandez. “I try to get them to think about the future. That's my goal in class is to get them to think how can I take care of myself and live a healthy and safe life and reach my goals.”

    School districts are also finding ways to educate parents about e-cigarettes.

    In January, the Greece Central School District hosted a night to teach parents about the different vaping products and the health risks associated with e-cigarettes.

    “We have seen some recognition at the elementary age, I would say some of the older elementary age students are starting to recognize the product maybe through social media or maybe seeing it with the older kids,” said Stephanie Rago, who works as a substance abuse prevention coordinator for GCSD. “[In] middle school we're starting to see some experimenting who may not fully have an understanding of what these devices are and maybe curiosity is starting to take over for some of the middle school kids.”

    E-Cigarette company responses

    The e-cigarette company JUUL was recently singled out by federal officials for targeting kids. In May 2018, 13WHAM reported that GCSD officials were seeing more students using the brand JUUL.

    A spokesperson with the company said in November 2018 the JUUL Labs Action Plan was implemented to address teens using the product. As part of the plan the company suspend the flavors of Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber in retail stores, the company also suspended its Facebook and Instagram accounts. The company still has a Twitter account and YouTube page.

    We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.

    On Tuesday evening, the Hilton Central School District is hosting a community event called "The Truth About Vaping...What You Should Know" at Hilton High School.

    Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health, and Alexandra Popovici, Community Engagement Manager for the Smoking & Health Action Coalition, will be on hand to speak from 6:45-7:45 p.m.

    A resource fair and a "simulated teen bedroom" will also be set up before the speaking engagement. More information about the event can be found here.

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