Vaping is a dangerous health risk, even to young students. A new study found that youth who use e-cigarettes are up to seven times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.
There are many ways to tackle vaping in schools. Early education, diversion programs to help students quit, and engagement of peers, parents/guardians, and staff are good places to start.
Whether school this year is online or in-person, vaping remains a dangerous health risk to all students. Despite statewide bans on certain e-cigarettes and vapes, youth are still stealthily finding ways to secure these products.
So, what’s a school to do – especially when a new Stanford University study found that youth who use e- cigarettes are five to seven times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus)?
Here are three ways you can help your students to extinguish their vaping habit:
1. Provide ongoing education – at an earlier age
Years of public health education on the dangers of nicotine have paid off. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported regular cigarette use was at an all-time low among U.S. adults in 2019 . Yet, e-cigarette and vaping use among high school and middle school students rose – nearly 27.5% of high school students and 10.5% of middle school students vaped in 2019.
So, what’s the disconnect? Swanky marketing campaigns , e-cigarette use by family or friends, exciting flavors, and the misconception that vaping is less harmful than other tobacco products are all factors youth have reported as contributing to their vaping practice . That’s why ongoing education about how vaping affects students’ health – especially their lungs, heart, and brain – is so vital.
“We have to start vaping education in the earliest grade possible,” said Maureen Buzby, Mystic Valley Regional tobacco prevention coordinator in Massachusetts. “We have to show the badness of this stuff and make vaping equal to smoking. Six-year-olds know smoking is bad for you. We need to make sure six-year-olds know vaping is also bad. Young people tell me time and time again, ‘the younger, the better.’ It’s too late by fourth or fifth grade.” If you need help finding a tobacco and vaping curriculum for your school, contact your Departments of Education or Public Health. You can also ask if there is a tobacco prevention coordinator in your area that you can consult for help.
2. Go beyond citation and suspension – and help students quit
Many schools have written policies in place that outline what to do when a student is caught vaping nicotine or THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – ranging from suspension to even expulsion. But there’s a need to go a step beyond that, according to Ashley Hall, program manager of the Northeast Tobacco-Free Community Partnership in Massachusetts. Citations and suspensions do not get at the heart of the addiction issue, and even give students the opportunity to vape while not in school.
“We need to be giving our students resources to help them quit,” said Hall. “We need them to know they are a victim of the industry and that there are health benefits to quitting as soon as you stop.”
Hall recommends the American Lung Association’s INDEPTH diversion program, specially designed for teens. It can be facilitated by any trained adult (training is free) and consists of four, 50-minute sessions that discuss vaping facts, harmful effects of nicotine and tobacco products, healthy alternatives to tobacco, and how to avoid future tobacco use.
For more resources to help students quit smoking or vaping, visit http://makesmokinghistory.org/dangers-of-vaping/help-youth-quit/.
3. Engage peers, staff, and family
Talking to someone who has “been there” can not only be therapeutic but also is an effective way to take steps to overcome an addiction or a personal health battle. This strategy has been used successfully in many ways – from combating alcoholism to facilitating weight loss.
Connecting youth who currently vape with peers can have many benefits, especially since vaping is a socially learned behavior. One study among students aged 14 to 19 found that many participants quit smoking after peer education. Researchers also noted that the program helped to develop positive relationships between peers.
Staff and parent or guardian education and participation are necessary, too. They need to know the warning signs of vaping and how to intervene. Many families believe their children aren’t vaping.
“But many times, their kids are vaping,” said Hall. “Youth were tricked by the tobacco and vaping industry into thinking these products are just water vapor and harmless, when, in fact, they are aerosols containing cancer-causing chemicals, nicotine, and other deadly toxins. Youth education, diversion programs, and staff and parent/guardian engagement are all critical.”
Written by Kristin Erekson Barton, MA, CHES
Reviewed by Cindy Bistany, DHSc
American Lung Association. (2020, July 13). INDEPTH: An Alternative to Teen Nicotine Suspension or Citation. Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/helping-teens-quit/indepth
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