January 19th, 2020

School boards look to tackle vaping rise

By JEREMY APPEL on January 14, 2020.

jappel@medicinehatnews.com@MHNJeremyAppel

Administrators at the three local school boards are attempting to navigate how to stem the tide of youth vaping.

The rate of teen vaping in Alberta increased to 22 per cent in 2017 from eight per cent in 2015, according to the University of Alberta School of Public Health.

Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education superintendent Dwayne Zarichny says the growth of student vaping is of particular concern, because it undoes some of the work that’s been done to get youth to stop smoking.

Zarichny says the number of disciplinary incidents at MHCBE schools for vaping has been “relatively small,” but the board wants to ensure they decrease rather than increase.

“Even having one incident is more than we’d like to see,” he said.

Medicine Hat Public School Division superintendent Mark Davidson told the News that vaping is increasingly becoming a concern in middle and high schools.

“Staff were expressing concern about students being quite dependent on vaping opportunities, on getting out of class so that they could vape, and more people seeking to vape in school,” said Davidson.

A significant issue with vaping, as opposed to smoking tobacco, is that it’s far easier to conceal, he added.

“Students will try and are often able to get away with vaping in a hallway or class. They go into bathrooms and vape there. The smell doesn’t travel as far and it’s not as intense,” Davidson said. “Cigarette smoke does.”

The MHPSD board updated its banned substances policy in November after consultation with AHS, adding e-cigarettes to a list of substances prohibited on school property or school events, which the separate board has also done.

Davidson says they’re also working on educational initiatives “to help dispel the myth among our students that vaping is somehow a healthy alternative to smoking.”

“The greater issue for us is trying to help students avoid starting with e-cigarettes and to provide them access to resources to quit if they do become involved with them,” he said.

Zarichny said the variety of flavours e-cigarettes offer are problematic in attracting youth.

“Students don’t necessarily recognize something that tastes like bubblegum can be dangerous. That’s probably the biggest concern,” he said.

A significant roadblock to enforcing anti-vaping measures is the lack of a legislative framework to work with, said Davidson.

“To date, we don’t have legislation that’s in force that makes the possession and use of e-cigarettes a crime or violation of statute for children,” he said.

Federal, provincial and municipal officials are working on passing laws and bylaws to further regulate e-cigarettes, which is somewhat reassuring, Davidson said.

In a statement to the News, Prairie Rose School Division superintendent Roger Clarke said principals haven’t brought forward any specific concerns about vaping in their schools, but the board is nonetheless taking precautions to ensure it isn’t an issue in the future.

For instance, the board has updated its Tobacco Use policy, which prohibits tobacco use on all school facilities and grounds, to include vaping.

“Additionally, our schools regularly access community supports that are designed to educate our students about the dangers of using smoking and vaping related products,” Clarke said.

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