By: Kimberly Redmond
The Morris School District is doubling down on its efforts to discourage kids from using electronic smoking devices.
In an effort to curb youth e-cigarette use, the district plans to create an intervention program to help students who are addicted to vaping, according to Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast.
The district has experienced the same phenomenon that schools across the country have tracked over the last year – a rise in teen e-cigarette use. And, like many districts, they’re trying to put a stop to a growing problem.
Some schools have toughened their policies and imposed stricter discipline to students caught puffing on campus, while others have sought to educate students more about the dangers of vaping.
In the Morris School District, officials have already taken several steps to address the problem over the last two years, such as updating policies and procedures to deal with students caught vaping and revising the curriculum for health class to address e-cigarette use.
Nonetheless, there’s at least one to two vaping incidents per week at the middle school and high school, which is enough for officials to take another step – the creation of an intervention program, Pendergrast said in a letter posted on the district website.
In his letter, Pendergrast described the new program as “a comprehensive, multi-tiered” resource for students who need addiction intervention.
The four-week program will be overseen by student assistance coordinators, as well as certified drug and alcohol counselors trained to handle substance abuse issues in school environments. As part of the program, students will participate in individual and group counseling sessions, regularly check in with counselors and complete assignments.
“Our administrators have been working in partnership with colleagues in other districts and with health experts to better understand relevant trends in student behavior and to share best practices in prevention and response so that we can approach all sides of the issue with sound deliberation,” Pendergrast said.
“Building and sustaining a healthy community district-wide is a primary goal of the Morris School District Central Office and our Board of Education and we have worked together over the past two years to make student wellness, safety and security our highest priority,” Pendergrast said.
While there’s been a decrease in teens smoking cigarettes, vaping with e-cigarettes and hookahs is on the rise.
According to the latest youth tobacco survey, almost 10 percent of teens in the state are using e-cigs – which is more than double the rate of teens reporting the usage of traditional cigarettes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.05 million high school students and 570,000 middle-schoolers were using e-cigarettes last year. That’s a total of more than 3.6 million kids, up from 280,000 in 2011.
The numbers have jumped since the 2015 introduction of Juul, a cartridge-based e-cigarette that’s been extremely popular with kids. The current use among high school students rose 78 percent in a single year, between 2017 and 2018.
In New Jersey, 12.1 percent of high school kids use e-cigarettes, according to an April report by the nonprofit Tobacco Free Kids.
With over 8,000 e-liquid flavors, like chocolate mint, peanut butter cup, blueberry cheesecake and milk and cereal, many kids can’t resist trying it.
According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration, high school students are actually more likely to vape than adults over age 25 and that e-cigarette use is leading more teens to try traditional cigarettes.
E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, are battery-operated devices that heat up liquid nicotine to generate an aerosol that users inhale. Its manufacturers have reiterated that their products are intended for adults who wish to quit smoking and not teens.
What are kids’ reasons for vaping? Flavor, taste, curiosity and “the belief they are less harmful than other tobacco products,” a recent state Health Department survey found.
E-cigarettes, which are a $2.5 billion a year industry, have not been approved by the FDA as a smoking cessation product, though researchers are still investigating if vaping helps adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes.
The FDA claims it can offer both benefits and risks – one of those risk being teens experimenting with e-cigarettes, becoming addicted to nicotine and then progressing onto tobacco products for the long term.
The Morris School District plans to host a program for parents on the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes soon. And, in Morris Township, officials are currently mulling a ban on underage nicotine possession and consumption, including vaping, and are set to vote on it on March 20.