E-cigarette use in Lexington schools surges; disciplinary incidents more than double; schools working to curb use

Nick Gregory, 26, a manager, vaped on a Juul at Botany Bay in Lexington. (Photo: Charles Bertram, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Electronic cigarette use among students is so widespread at one Lexington high school that the principal estimates at least half of its student body are using them, and other Lexington high schools are reporting they have caused an increase in disciplinary incidents, Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The principal at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School told the newspaper that she thinks at least 1,000 of her students, or half of the student body, are using e-cigarettes; that the incidents of e-cig confiscations has tripled at Lafayette High School; and that the principal at Frederick Douglass High School said three to four students are disciplined three to four times per month for vaping.

A Dunbar parent, Jennifer McChord, told the Herald-Leader that she approached school officials about the problem, and that she was hearing “good kids who are intelligent” saying that e-cigs were “no big deal and not addictive.” McChord said she hoped a student group will lead an education effort.

All three high schools told the paper they were working on efforts to educate students and parents about the dangers of e-cigarettes and to curb usage. A video production class at Frederick Douglass created an infomercial to help teachers identify vaping materials; Dunbar has sent information information to parents about the products, and its student newspaper plans to address the problem in its upcoming issue. Lafayette is considering hosting parent workshops.

Youth vaping has become so prevalent that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called it an epidemic, prompting the agency to crack down on e-cigarette manufacturers’ marketing and sale of these products to children. Juul, an e-cig maker, has suspended store sales of most of its flavored pods.

Federal research has found that the number of U.S. high school students who reported being current e-cigarette users increased 78 percent between 2017 and 2018, to 3.05 million. The same report showed use by middle schoolers increased 48 percent.

The most popular product is Juul, which looks like a USB flash drive and comes in popular flavors. E-cigs often don’t have an odor and therefore are often harder to detect on high school campuses than traditional cigarettes or marijuana, the Herald-Leader notes.

“No high schooler that Juuls thinks they’re doing something harmful,” Dunbar sophomore Sanaa Kahloon told the newspaper. “None of the students seem to understand how the nicotine addiction works or how dangerous it is.”

The use or possession of e-cigarettes is prohibited in Fayette County schools, and is subject to the same disciplinary consequences as any other tobacco product.

Rather than a punitive approach, Fayette County schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall told the newspaper that their first step is to confiscate the contraband and offer support for smoking cessation support. Principals told her that they generally give students in-school suspension when they catch them, and that out of school suspensions indicate more serious offenses, such as trafficking or repeated infractions.

Disciplinary incidents involving tobacco in Fayette County schools have more than doubled since 2015, from 98 events with 11 resulting in out-of-school suspension in the 2015-16 school year, to 225 events with 32 resulting in out-of-school suspension in the 2017-18 school year, the Herald-Leader reports.

DEffendall said, “It is important to keep this data in context by noting that we have more than 12,000 high school students and these numbers represent individual behavior incidents and could include the same student with multiple infractions.”

School systems across the nation have similar problems. Beth Teitell reports for The Boston Globe that vaping among high school students is such a problem in Massachusetts that many of their school systems, which used an educational approach to get students to stop using e-cigarettes last year, are now “taking the fight directly to the girls and boys rooms, and installing sensors, or considering doing so, despite tight budgets and equipment that can cost as much as $995 per unit.”

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