Following a national trend, vaping among high school students in Burnet and Marble Falls has created concerns and led to prevention tactics that seem to be working.
“In my twenty-three years (in education), I’ve never seen something move so quick from not being used to being used as fast as vaping,” said Dr. Chris Allen, superintendent of the Marble Falls Independent School District. “It’s a national issue.”
Last year through November, 47 vaping-related deaths were reported in the United States. The rise in vaping among young people nationwide led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to declare vaping an epidemic 18 months ago. As of January 2, 2020, pre-filled vape pods and e-cigarette cartridges other than tobacco and menthol flavors have been banned.
The state of Texas raised the legal age for purchasing cigarettes and vaping devices to 21, effective September 1, 2019, in an attempt to quell the rising use among teens. Before that, you had to be 18 to purchase vaping devices and products.
“Here’s what I think the attraction has been until pretty recently: a strongly held belief by children and some adults that there are no negative health consequences,” Allen said. “And that’s just not true.”
In fact, vaping comes with a long list of health risks, including respiratory ailments and high blood pressure.
The liquid used in vaping devices often contains nicotine, chemicals, and sometimes cannabis, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Kids were using vapes, and no one knew what it was,” Allen said.
The Burnet Consolidated Independent School District noticed the same trend among their students as MFISD.
“I’ve not seen anything so dangerous to students that became so popular,” said BCISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett. “Last year, as it was becoming an epidemic, we were meeting with parents, students, law enforcement, and administrators (to address the problem).”
Both Allen and McBurnett acknowledged the difficulty of identifying vaping devices. Allen noted some can look like everyday items, such as thumb drives and pens.
Staff at both districts have attended seminars to recognize the signs of students vaping, such as mists or students putting their sleeves to their mouths or repeatedly reaching into their pockets.
Since the implementation of district anti-vaping plans, both Allen and McBurnett said they have noticed a decrease in the number of students using the devices. The most effective tool, so far, has been education. Both districts have hosted forums, presented data to parents, and talked with students about the dangers of vaping.
Marble Falls High School students were required to write research papers on vaping, Allen said.
“That’s when we felt like we were turning the tide,” he continued. “We felt like if we could explain the real harm that vaping presents, then the behavior would dramatically decrease.”
Burnet High School presented the CATCH My Breath e-cigarette prevention program during two forums it hosted. CATCH stands for Coordinated Approach to Child Health. The organization serves 10,000 schools and communities in the U.S. with its student health programs.
The districts also upped the consequences associated with vaping, including confiscating devices and disciplining offenders.
On a first offense, Burnet students are assigned in-school suspension for five days. Marble Falls students are sent to EPIC, the district’s alternative education setting, for seven days. That can drop to five days if the student completes an online educational program on the dangers of vaping.
McBurnett believes the punishment for a second offense is the most effective. A student is sent to ISS, an alternative education setting, for 10 days and referred to the city of Burnet prosecutor for a Class C misdemeanor.
“It’s the thing that added more teeth,” he said.
In Marble Falls, devices are tested for THC, since some vaping products contain the active ingredient in marijuana, which is illegal in Texas. If a device tests positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, law enforcement is notified.
In Burnet, tests for illegal substances are at the discretion of the campus administrator or the school resource officer. Positive results could bring additional legal action.
Another deterrent, according to both superintendents, has been the reports of vaping deaths.
“Students and parents seeing on the news that real people are dying (from vaping-related health issues) is causing a slowdown of the behavior,” McBurnett said. “We have seen a decrease but, by no means, have we solved the problem. I’m hoping there will be continued restrictions. I’m hoping we can all pull in the same direction.”
Allen is also remaining vigilant.
“We’ve had a dramatic decrease, but I won’t say it’s all gone,” he said. “It’s not nearly what it was a year ago. I think it validated the belief that when the schools and the community get on the same page, there’s not much we can’t tackle successfully.”