The dangers of tobacco use are well known, but the same cannot be said for vaping. It has only been around for about a decade, but has become more prominent in recent years.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines vaping as: “to inhale vapor through the mouth from a usually battery-operated electronic device (such as an electronic cigarette) that heats up and vaporizes a liquid or solid. This electronic cigarette … contains a small reservoir of liquid nicotine solution that is vaporized to form an aerosol mist.”
Many think it is a safer alternative to cigarette smoking.
But is it?
With the prevalence of vaping and its possible dangers only now starting to be uncovered with a rash of vaping-related lung illnesses, McClain’s Matt Shelton is taking it all quite seriously and is approaching the problem with education.
The assistant principal said that last year, of the 52 out-of-school suspensions handed down, more than half of those were for students vaping.
That concerned him so much that he spent the summer crafting a plan to educate rather than punish. Now, Shelton is on a crusade to educate McClain students, staff, parents and the community about the dangers of not just tobacco use, but vaping.
Students caught using tobacco products, including vaping, will spend their Saturdays with Shelton at school, working through more than 70 pages of information and having to respond to several questions and complete an essay. The comprehensive Saturday school plan includes a lot of tobacco statistics in general, Shelton said, but does have more of a focus on vaping because it is such a prominent, widespread issue at present.
But the education part needs to extend beyond the student, Shelton said. He had help realizing that when in a staff meeting most didn’t know what they were looking at when he passed around vaping materials. The most popular, he said, is Juul. It has surpassed the confines of its brand name and become a thing all its own.
Shelton has witnessed students trading pods with each other. The pods, which contain the nicotine liquid, resemble a flash drive for a computer. In fact, that is what the Greenfield staff thought they were seeing at the recent meeting with Shelton.
“I’ve seen these on students’ desks,” he heard one staff member exclaim.
He figures parents have likely seen these devices, too, and have brushed them off as a flash drive.
The marketing for the vaping devices seems to be directly marketed to young people, Shelton said, even though one must be at least 18 to purchase any nicotine products.
“It’s very accessible and very acceptable,” Shelton said.
“It has been my goal since last year to help students truly understand that vaping is not OK, because many don’t always have the education or experience of knowing what might be harmful, even though it’s very socially acceptable,” Shelton said.
Vaping does not have the same stigma that cigarette smoking or chewing tobacco has. Shelton said it is hard to believe how socially acceptable it is. It is not just a certain set or type of student vaping or talking about vaping, it is any type of student, he said.
“That’s scary,” he said. “It’s like an epidemic.”
Shelton said other schools he has talked to about vaping issues have described them as “out of hand.”
That is another reason Shelton has taken the education approach versus punitive.
Over the summer, Shelton got connected to a researcher at the Ohio State University’s James Cancer Center, and in addition to being educated on the dangers of vaping, he is also now part of a research program associated with the James.
Shelton often gets requests from parents for resources, gets asked questions, and he is happy to share. Following are two links for parents: JUUL and Youth: Rising E-Cigarette Popularity (Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) an informative document about JUUL products:
https://youthengagementalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/JUUL-Fact-Sheet-2-5-18.pdf; and Know the Risks E-Cigarettes & Young People (U.S. Surgeon General). A tip sheet for parents to talk with teens about e-cigarettes, https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/SGR_ECig_ParentTipSheet_508.pdf.
Shelton also said people are welcome to contact him with any questions.
Others at the school are getting involved as they become more informed. Shelton said the McClain FFA is producing a presentation for the student body, and journalism students have recently published an article on social media on the matter.
With the troubling trend of vaping seemingly firmly established, Shelton wants to do everything he can to help everyone learn as much as they can about tobacco use, specifically vaping, and to stay informed as research has more to offer.
“The ultimate goal is to eliminate the use of vaping devices not only in the school building, but outside of school as well,” Shelton said. “It’s more than just an issue at school … it’s a major health concern for our kids.”
Angela Shepherd is a correspondent for the Greenfield Exempted Village School District.