De Pere school board talks vaping
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – In the wake of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, tobacco use and especially vaping were on the minds of members of the De Pere school board at a committee meeting Monday, Nov. 4.
The survey found in Brown County, that 44 percent of students have tried vaping, and 18 percent admit to doing it in the last 30 days (which the survey creators consider to be “currently doing” something.)
Twenty-six percent of Brown County high school students say they’ve smoked pot, and 14 percent say they still do.
Another 7 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes, cigars or cigarillos, or use smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, and 46 percent of this group have tried to quit.
The novelty aspect of vaping made it the main focus of discussion at the meeting.
De Pere High School Principal Nick Joseph gave board members several confiscated vaping paraphernalia wrapped in plastic so they could learn to recognize it.
Board members saw vaping devices such as a JUUL can come in small containers a fraction of the size of a cigarette pack that can range from unassuming neutral colors to colorful, art-covered units.
They can be concealed in a pants pocket, shirt cuff, or hand and can take almost any guise.
“They can look like ordinary jump drives, or girls’ makeup compacts,” Joseph said.
Vaping has changed the game of teen tobacco-sneaking for Joseph.
“At first, it was easy to tell who the students who used tobacco were because if they smoked cigarettes or cigars, they smelled of it,” Joseph said. “Now with vaping, they don’t smell like smoke at all.”
Joseph said several years ago, when it first hit the scene, vaping wasn’t thought of as harmful and was tolerated to a degree.
“Then around the 2017-18 school year it became a thing to blow big plumes of smoke in the classroom or bathroom, have your buddy videotape it and put it on social media,” Joseph said.
Last year, faced with more severe school crackdowns on vaping, students would hide the e-cigarette or cartridge in their shirts, inhale and swallow the vapor.
“So anytime a teacher saw a kid with their hand up by their face, they had to decide whether they were vaping or not,” Joseph said.
More recently, kids have started getting sick and tired of seeing it happen and are telling authorities who the prime offenders are.
Joseph said there’s been an 89 percent drop in vaping violations this year.
“Hopefully those numbers will continue to drop, but it’s still a concern,” he said.
Some board members expressed, before recent news coverage of deaths with suspected links to vaping, they had seen vaping as relatively innocuous.
Joseph said he asked one student who vaped why he did so.
“The student said, ‘Honestly, I don’t know why; all my friends do it, so I started doing it, and now I’m addicted,’” Joseph said. “That makes it particularly sad, because it was thought that vaping was this tool that could help smokers stop smoking cigarettes, but it quickly leads to addiction, and it’s making kids who never smoked into addicts. The amount of nicotine in a cartridge is way more than it is for cigarettes.”
What’s most worrying to school administrators is when students get a hold of vapes which contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Students caught using tobacco or other drugs in school can be suspended for up to three days and ordered to attend counseling sessions, and they can be reported to the school police liaison officer, who may issue citations carrying fines of $155 to $250.
“With the citation, there’s a mandatory court date, and parents must accompany the student to appear in court,” said Renee Jadin-Rice, assistant principal of De Pere High School. “Even if they’re over 18 and can legally use tobacco products, they can’t have it in school.”
The school has instituted an anti-tobacco educational component into the curriculum, including classes in biology and science that devote time to tobacco’s effects on the respiratory and lungs.