PHOENIX — It’s a growing trend among teens in Arizona: vaping.
More and more students are getting caught with electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices on school grounds as shown by discipline data KTAR News 92.3 FM obtained from several school districts in the East Valley.
The biggest annual jump occurred during the 2017-2018 school year, with some districts seeing their numbers double. Students are vaping in school bathrooms and even inside classrooms.
“It’s definitely something that is getting a lot of our attention,” said Dr. Michael Garcia, director of opportunity and achievement for Mesa Public Schools.
Mesa Public Schools is the state’s largest school district, with 82 schools and about 67,000 students.
The number of students getting disciplined for vaping at Mesa campuses has more than doubled each year since 2016. Last school year, the district had 645 vaping-related violations.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing some of our violations as early as third and fourth grade,” Garcia said. “Typically the most of the violations are in junior high or high school.”
Mesa and other school districts in the East Valley are responding to the growing use of e-cigarettes by coming up with campaigns that educate students and parents about vaping.
The campaigns make clear it is illegal for anyone under 18 years old to buy or possess vape products. They also point out the e-cigarette aerosol that users inhale may contain harmful substances that lead to irreversible lung damage and lung disease.
There are also campaigns, like the one created by the Tempe Union High School District, to let teachers know what vaping devices look like and what to look for.
“We had situations where students were charging their vaping device in class, and teachers didn’t know what they were,” said Jennifer Liewer, the district’s executive director for community relations.
Liewer said vaping has become a growing problem at Tempe high schools, so much so that the district launched the “Vanish the Vape” campaign last fall.
The campaign includes videos to educate students on the dangers of vaping and the consequences of getting caught using e-cigarettes in school.
“When we launched the campaign last fall, we definitely saw a decrease in the number of infractions,” Liewer said. “Summer break came along and we saw a huge spike at the beginning of the school year, but that number is slowly tapering off as we re-educate students.”
The Tempe Union High School District had nearly 260 instances in which a student was disciplined for vaping last school year. So far this school year, the district has had more than 70 instances.
High schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District had 55 students disciplined for vaping during the 2016-2017 school year. Last school year, that number jumped to 130.
The Kyrene School District, which operates 18 elementary schools and one K-8 school, reported 33 of its tobacco violations were tied to vaping during the 2016-2017 school year. That number nearly doubled to 62 the following year, and this year the district has already had 81 of these violations.
In the Chandler Unified School District, vaping has also become a major concern.
“It’s rampant. It is an epidemic currently,” said Marcus Williams, the district’s director of athletics and student discipline. “It’s the cool thing to do, if you will.”
Williams said the district doesn’t track vaping violations separately. Instead, they fall under tobacco violations.
The Chandler district has had about 400 tobacco violations for each of the last two school years. This came after having fewer than 200 tobacco violations during the 2016-2017 school year.
“A vast majority of all those infractions are vaping or e-cigarettes,” Williams said.
He said students caught vaping must watch a video about the dangers of e-cigarettes and take a test afterwards. The video was put together by the Chandler Coalition on Youth Substance Abuse.
The district’s counseling departments are also working with school resource officers to come up with materials about vaping to give to students.
“Schools are doing everything they can to create that educational component to let students know it’s not a good thing,” Williams said. “It’s harmful.”