The Natrona County School District’s board held its second public hearing on e-cigarette use Monday night, this time focusing on the middle school and law enforcement side of the issue. Earlier this month, administrators told the board that 60 percent of high schoolers have vaped and that most students see little to know risk in using the products, one pod of which equals a pack of traditional cigarettes.
Jessica Winford, an assistant principal at Dean Morgan, said that investigating a vape report can take three hours out of an administrator’s day, and when one student is found vaping, the school typically finds three more kids using the e-cigarette, too.
Data released to the board in August showed that tobacco use in the district’s middle schools had jumped nearly 180 percent in recent years, a substantial increase that officials attribute to the use of e-cigarettes.
Winford told the board that there was little odor associated with vaping, and many students hide the thin sticks in their sleeves, inhale and then blow the clouds down their arms. She said the best indicator for teachers is the light that flicks on when a vape pen is used. But even that’s imperfect; the lights turn off if you push the button hard enough, and even when the light is on, a teacher has to see it.
She said students get the products from their friends, from their siblings, from their parents, from strangers at gas stations.
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Sgt. Scott Jones, who oversees the district’s school resource officers, said that there’s been a “marked increase” of e-cigarette use in Natrona County’s schools. He said 90 percent of the devices have tobacco products, 6 percent have some sort of marijuana derivative and the remaining 4 percent have chemicals that are a mystery to law enforcement.
“We’ve thrown every field test we have at it and haven’t been able to come up with a solution,” Jones said.
He said when SROs catch students, they’re issued citations — either for tobacco or THC violations. He said that between September and late January, officers have issued roughly 140 citations for tobacco use. There’s a perception among students that vaping isn’t detrimental to their health. He said one student recently had to be taken to Wyoming Medical Center because of the large amount of THC she inhaled.
“Case and point, a student I spoke with the other day was found with a vape,” Jones said. “I asked him, ‘Why don’t you just smoke cigarettes?’ ‘Well, those are bad for you.’”
While e-cigarettes haven’t been around long enough to study the future effects they may have on their users, there has still been some research on vaping. A U.S. study found that “e-cigarette use was associated with progression from experimentation with cigarettes to established smoking.” Other studies have suggested that vaping hurts teen’s neural stem cells and that they lead to a significantly higher likelihood of lung disease.