Rising rates of teen vaping are often preceded by the word “epidemic.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services justify use of such a powerful noun. The percentage of high school seniors who had used an e-cigarette within the past 30 days has jumped from 1.5% in 2010 to 26.7% in 2016.
As Congress studies this spike, local school districts across the country have taken matters into their own hands. Fairbury Public Schools has expanded its random drug-testing policy, required of students participating in any extracurricular activity or sport, to now include nicotine as a banned substance.
Though the Journal Star editorial board shares its concerns about the prevalence of vaping among teens, the district is simply going much too far in its efforts.
“Vaping and smoking in our view is reaching epidemic proportions,” Fairbury Superintendent Stephen Grizzle told the Journal Star’s Margaret Reist. “It’s just a way we can deter kids from potentially being addicted to nicotine. Since smoking and using vaping products are against our policies, it makes sense to include that.”
Beyond the drug tests, Grizzle said that Fairbury school officials are looking into placing Wi-Fi-enabled sensors in bathrooms that would notify administrators if the devices detected vapor from e-cigarettes. This approach exceeds overkill.
Students have been getting around restrictions on tobacco and alcohol for years, and a school’s choice to resort to extreme measures of this nature won’t dissuade them. Suspensions from competitions raise concerns about privacy, too, especially in smaller schools, where a classmate’s absence would stand out more.
Educating them frankly about the very real dangers of smoking – the same tool that drove underage cigarette usage to yet another record low of 10.4% in 2017 – remains the most appropriate choice for vaping, too. Only 22% of young adults consider the practice “very harmful,” as opposed to 83% who say the same about smoking in general, per a 2018 Gallup poll.
Lincoln Public Schools provides a more sensible model.
Citing concerns about student privacy, cost and effectiveness, the district instead focuses on education of children and families. Rather than using such an intrusive approach, LPS has joined the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department for public awareness campaigns.
But just because something is hazardous doesn’t mean it’s illegal – and Nebraskans 19 and older can legally smoke following the passage of a bill by the Nebraska Legislature raising the smoking age.
Hence, the prohibition and punishment in Fairbury fail to fit the perceived crime here. Students are just a couple years away – or less – from performing the same behavior without consequence, forbidden one day and permitted the next.
The trick is to convince them that the health costs of lighting up greatly exceed the fleeting benefits of smoking – but in a far less invasive manner.