Vaping has exploded among youth, leading school officials on a seemingly endless struggle.
Unlike tobacco, vapor-based cigarettes do not produce smoke or leave a tell-tale odor, and they have small designs to mimic flash drives. This makes it easier for students to cover their tracks when using in bathrooms, corridors and even classrooms.
The health consequences for e-cigarette use is just becoming known and has led to sometimes quick lung damage and death.
Since March, more than 1,300 lung injuries and 26 deaths have been reported in the U.S. to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just this month, Oklahoma has four such injuries including one involving a child younger than 18.
Early on, vaping companies targeted youth with sweet flavors, packaging to look like juice boxes or candy and marketing with cartoon-like illustrations. It worked.
In two years, Oklahoma youth vaping jumped 70% and more than a quarter of high school students say they use e-cigarettes, according to a Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
This tracks with national data released last year showing 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students vape regularly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put the five biggest e-cigarette companies on notice to change their practices, with Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calling the devices an “on-ramp to kids” to addiction.
State laws and policies didn’t keep up with the boom in the use of e-cigarettes. Oklahoma eventually banned sales to anyone younger than 18 and earlier this year adding e-cigarette devices to the Tobacco-Free Schools Act.
Vaping products are still not taxed the same as tobacco as a deterrent, though the addictive chemical nicotine is present.
School officials are doing what they can to curb e-cigarette use and rid their buildings of the devices.
Local districts report children as young as elementary ages are being found in violation of anti-vaping rules, according to a recent story from reporter Kyle Hinchey.
Among the tactics are ramped up education campaigns and parental forums. Some districts are considering fines for repeat offenders.
Schools cannot do this job alone. They need parental reinforcement.
Parents need to talk about the known, and unknown, consequences of vaping to their kids. It’s never too early to start that conversation.