He watches teens like himself walking to school or clustered in a field exhaling clouds of steam and it bothers him.
Compared to smoking, vaping is less harmful, but MacDonald knows it’s not harmless and that’s the focus of a presentation he and a group of other high school students are bringing to young students when they visit elementary schools.
“The message I want to get out to kids is it’s not cool to put anything other than oxygen into your lungs, and it’s actually harmful,” said MacDonald, a Grade 12 student at Duchess Park Secondary School who leads the anti-vaping initiative as part of the School District 57 District Student Advisory Council.
“Vaping is better than smoking but both are pretty bad. It’s right in your face at school and everyone knows that a lot of people vape. The main thing I’m doing is helping elementary students make informed decisions on what they’re actually putting into their bodies and having them see the harms of it so they’ll know it’s not as harmless as people will have them think.”
In those school assemblies, MacDonald shows a news clip of 19-year-old Jaycen Stephens of Armstrong, who has filed a suit in BC Supreme Court against JUUL, the vaping cartridge manufacturer. JUUL makes small, easily-hidden devices for vaping that look like USB flash drives which contain concentrated doses of addictive nicotine and are often flavoured. Stephens started vaping when he was 16 and says it’s the cause of his respiratory problems. He says he has a constant feeling of fluid in his lungs and is unable to run. The suit claims Stephens was unaware of the risks of vaping before he got hooked on it.
MacDonald has visited Heritage, College Heights and Pinewood elementaries and the list of schools that want the Advisory Group to present to their students is growing, with visits to Heather Park and Buckhorn upcoming.
“I find when you’re talking to elementary kids about in-depth subjects such as the harms of vaping, you really need to be interactive,” said MacDonald. “If you’re just talking at them they’re not going to like it, but if you’re talking to them and having an interactive two-way conversation they really seem to grasp on to the subject a lot more.”
Each secondary school and five elementary schools in the city have at least two Student Advisory Council representatives and MacDonald will bring one or two with him when he makes his presentations.
“They started a week-and-a-half ago and just today, four other schools are trying to book these students,” Katie Marren, vice-principal at D.P. Todd Secondary School.
It is against school rules to vape anywhere near school property and Marren says the problem of vaping and e-cigarettes has become more pervasive over the past two years. The liquid that makes the vapour is primarily vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol, commonly used in cosmetics and sweeteners. The devices use batteries to heat what is being consumed without burning or smoking the substance. There is no odour, so there’s no way to tell if what is being vaped is nicotine or marijuana.
“It’s definitely been a concern in all the secondary schools,” said Marren. “I guess that’s why I’m relieved that the students themselves want to do something about it. It becomes less about us and adults making the rules and it’s more about students wanting to support other students’ wellness than it is about the rules.”
DSAC members at Tuesday’s public meeting told trustees they are planning other events next month in their respective schools to mark Mental Health Day (Kindness to Self) on Feb. 2 and Pink Shirt Day (Kindness to Others) on Feb. 26. Details of those events will be discussed at their next group meeting on Monday at the school board office on Ferry Avenue.