Vaping in Local Schools: How E-Cigs Add Up to Multiple Problems
E-cigarette use continues to be the No. 1 way young people consume nicotine.
According to the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 10 percent of high schoolers and 4.6 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes.
“It’s been a concern here at the school district,” said Nikki Stout, substance abuse specialist with Robbinsdale Area Schools.
Stout works to help students kick the vaping habit for multiple reasons.
“A lot of them are using to self-medicate, a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression that seems to be either unrecognized or undiagnosed,” said Stout. “Maybe they just feel like this is the fastest way to resolve the challenges they are having with their mental health.”
Stout said vaping is a concern due to its effects on brain development.
“The adolescent brain is developing until the age of 25, and so we know that when there’s use before the brain is fully developed, there’s a higher risk for addiction,” said Stout.
More Nicotine Than Traditional Cigarettes
Dr. Gavin Bart, division director of addiction medicine at Hennepin Healthcare, is working to make the dangers of e-cigarettes known. He says e-cig use is easier to hide.
“If you think about traditional cigarettes and youth, you know the sneaking a cigarette behind the school gym during break, or sneaking it at someplace else, because of the smell of cigarettes, it’s really hard to pull it off in your home or in school,” said Dr. Bart. “But with vaping, with it being relatively odor-free, it’s pretty easy to do it in your house, and your parents don’t notice, it’s pretty easy to do it in school and people don’t notice.”
Dr. Bart says e-cigarettes can also more easily deliver nicotine than traditional cigarettes.
“Kids in a disposable vape can carry around the equivalent of half a carton of cigarettes in their hand in a vape pen. To have one thing in their hand that’s containing that amount of nicotine that they can basically smoke in an unrestricted manner becomes really dangerous in terms of the amount of nicotine they are being exposed and the level of nicotine addiction they can develop.”
Dr. Bart is also concerned that e-cigarettes can serve as a gateway to traditional cigarettes.
He says youth who vape are more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes than youth who don’t vape.
The Robbinsdale School District is also trying to clamp down on vaping for other reasons besides student health concerns. Officials have dealt with vape pens flushed down toilets contributing to costly plumbing problems.
“Obviously putting a vape pen down a toilet, it’s not going to fit in the pipes, so it did create a mess,” said Stout.
In one case this year, Armstrong High School had to close for a full day while repairs and cleanup took place.
Helping Kids Talk About Vaping
Dr. Bart encourages parents to create an environment where kids feel like they can talk about vaping without fear of punishment.
Robbinsdale School District staff members are working on having supportive conversations too.
“We are doing advisory lessons on it. We are doing health curriculum around it,” said Stout.
By taking proactive measures, schools and caregivers are hoping that kids are better aware of the dangers of vaping before they ever think about starting.
“It boils down to we care. We want to be healthy. We want you to be safe,” said Stout.