Vaping on Campus: Who, Where and How Often
An excerpt from a larger report “Addressing the Student Vaping Epidemic” published by our environmental video surveillance partner, Verkada. For a link to the entire report, click here.
If you are a school principal, superintendent, teacher, IT professional or another school leader, you’re probably familiar with the student vaping issue that persists on school campuses today. Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes, for short), are small, hand-held nicotine delivery devices that heat a nicotine liquid into an inhalable vapor. E-cigarettes come in all shapes and sizes, but many are smaller than a USB drive. These battery-powered vape pens produce an aerosol “vapor” that can contain nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals. The vapor looks similar to the smoke from a cigarette, but it doesn’t have the same smell. Worst of all, unlike regular tobacco products, which have one distinct taste, e-cigarettes come in hundreds of fun flavors, like cotton candy, mango, or mint. This makes them more attractive to the 800,000 young people who tried them for the first time in 2022 alone.
Because vapes don’t smell like regular cigarettes, they are easy to hide. Students can take a quick puff between classes, in the bathroom, or even right in their seats. In some cases, the vapor dissipates too quickly to be noticeable. In other cases, students can blow it into their clothing or hold it in their mouths before exhaling, reducing, or eliminating the vapor altogether. And since these devices are so small, students can easily put them in their pockets or backpacks – making classroom vaping a big challenge. In fact, in 2019, the Truth Initiative hosted an online discussion with educators about how vaping impacts their classrooms. One of their primary concerns was how vaping can be a major distraction. When students use e-cigarettes, they are not paying attention to the lesson. This is a problem for all students in the class, not just those who use tobacco products and can have a ripple effect throughout the learning environment.
Academic Impact of Vaping on Students
Student vaping can also lead to lower grades and academic performance. A 2021 study found that students who began to use e-cigarettes missed assignments, skipped classes and reported lower GPAs than those who didn’t use tobacco products. The Truth Initiative’s 2019 data confirms this—teachers have personally noticed that e-cigarette use among their students has led to poor academic performance.
“A kid showing signs of (nicotine) addiction has mood swings (that they may or may not have had before), sudden drop in grades or loss or change of friend groups,” one teacher said, describing how e-cigarette addiction has impacted her students.
Vaping Can Happen Anywhere
A few of the most common places students vape include:
• School Bathrooms: Bathrooms are private and multiple students can use them throughout the day, making it easy to sneak a quick vape.
• Classrooms: Especially if a student sits in the back of the room, it can be difficult for a teacher to see them vaping.
• Hallways: During passing periods, students can easily blend in and vape without being noticed. During class time, they can use e-cigarettes while nobody is around.
• Locker Rooms: Like bathrooms, locker rooms are private places where students can vape without being detected.
Why Vaping is So Dangerous
As policies allow vape incidents to slip through the cracks and a lack of supplementary support systems makes it difficult to Address the Student Vaping Epidemic issue, more and more young adults are taking up vaping. This has many dramatic impacts on the health and safety of students and schools, namely:
1. Nicotine use can harm adolescent brain development.
In middle school and high school, students go through critical changes in their developing brains. Nicotine impairs the growth of neurons and directly harms the portions of the brain responsible for learning, memory and attention. Brain development continues until around age 25, so the more nicotine exposure young adults have now, the greater the risk for long-term problems.
2. E-cigarettes adversely impact lung health.
E-cigarettes contain potentially harmful ingredients, including metals like lead, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing agents. According to the American Lung Association, the effects of these toxic chemicals have amplified consequences for young adults and their lung health. And this lung damage can have long-term effects (e.g., lung cancer, bronchitis and serious lung disease), particularly for teens who vape every day.
3. Teen vaping leads to early addiction.
In addition to the health risks associated with the harmful chemicals in vape juice, nicotine is highly addictive. Young adults who vape are at a greater risk of developing a nicotine addiction than those who don’t. When
users inhale nicotine, it quickly enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain. This increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. The body then begins to crave more nicotine to keep dopamine levels high, leading to nicotine addiction. This is even more alarming given that 39% of high school students who vape used e-cigarettes 20 or more days in the past month, according to the most recent data. If nearly two in every five students are using e-cigarettes that frequently, it’s likely that they will carry nicotine dependence into adulthood. E-cigarette companies have been targeting young adults in their marketing for years. And as youth e-cigarette use grows, the social norm becomes more and more accepted and quitting vaping becomes less probable.
4. Widespread adoption results in younger users.
As more young people use e-cigarettes, the average age of first-time e-cigarette users continues to drop. Middle school students are now trying e-cigarettes at younger and younger ages. The CDC reports that 550,000 middle school students currently use e-cigarettes, which is only increasing. For young teens, early adoption is the result of a domino effect. All it takes is one student with a brother or sister who vapes for the curiosity to set in. And since it’s so addictive, the vaping epidemic can spread like wildfire.
5. Vaping e-cigarettes infringes on other students’ health and safety.
When students vape at school, it’s not just their own health and safety that’s at risk. E-cigarette aerosol can have a secondhand impact on those around them, particularly for students with asthma or other respiratory problems. Secondhand emissions from e-cigarette aerosols can actually be more harmful among students who don’t smoke or vape themselves since they’re not used to inhaling the chemicals. When teen vaping impacts the students and school personnel around them, it is no longer just an individual issue—it becomes a massive public health and safety concern. Emergency notification solutions like ACTIVATE integrate environmental surveillance to Address the Student Vaping Epidemic.
8 Effective Strategies to Address Vaping
Across the country, Addressing the Student Vaping Epidemic in schools is becoming a major conversation. To stand up against the teen vaping epidemic, there are a range of programs and strategies that schools can use to deter vaping. In many conversations, educators and parents hear from students that vapes don’t have any tobacco or nicotine. So clearly kid don’t always really know what they were putting in their body. Educating students is key: students must be informed on what the effects of vaping could look like for them including learning impairment, negative mental health impacts, and physical addiction.
To address the root of the vaping epidemic, teachers and administrators need to take a range of steps to curb vaping, drive better education around the topic, increase awareness, and more. Some of the strategies school leaders can deploy include:
1. Create an effective vaping policy: A clear and concise vape-free policy is the first step to addressing the problem. The policy should include disciplinary actions for students who violate the rules, as well as education on the risks of vaping.
2. Increase monitoring and enforcement: To ensure the policy is being followed, schools need to increase schoolwide monitoring for vape-related incidents. This might include more frequent check-ins during lunch or after school, as well as more random locker and backpack searches. It should also include building security cameras and vape detectors in bathrooms and other common areas. Environmental monitoring is becoming a crucial component in this effort.
3. Educate school staff: When staff members are educated on the risks of vaping and how to identify vape-related incidents, they can play a crucial role in prevention. Each school administrator should be trained on the signs of vaping, so they can take action when necessary.
4. Engage parents: Parents need to be involved in the conversation about Addressing the Student Vaping Epidemic, both at home and at school. Schools can host parent workshops or send informational pamphlets to a family member to start the dialogue.
5. Educate students: Many young adults are unaware of the harmful consequences of vaping nicotine. Students need to be educated on the risks of vaping, as well as the school’s policy against it. This education should start early—in middle school—to prevent students from ever starting to vape.
6. Enforce consequences: If students are caught violating the school’s vaping policy, they should be subject to disciplinary action. This might include detention, suspension, or even expulsion, depending on the severity of the case. The consequences should be strict enough to deter students from vaping, but not so severe that they are unreasonable.
7. Provide support and resources for students: Some young people vape because they struggle with other issues, like anxiety, depression, trouble at home, peer pressure, or a psychological issue. In other cases, they need the help from an addiction specialist. Schools should provide support and resources for these students, so they can get the help they need to stop vaping.
8. Capture student data: Many schools collect data on student vaping, which can help administrators understand the scope of the problem and develop targeted prevention strategies. This data can be collected through surveys, focus groups, or student interviews. It can also be gathered through environmental monitoring systems placed on school grounds.
Taking the First Step – Identifying Student Vaping on Campus
The full report “Addressing the Student Vaping Epidemic” from our partner, Verkada is available here. It includes helpful resources and links to get started on addressing student vaping, as well as environmental surveillance equipment to help schools and other public institutions monitor, locate, and act on vaping or smoking incidences on campus in real time. Read the entire report here.