Record editorial: Summit County schools, parents must combat increase in student vaping
Similar to places all across the country, Summit County’s schools are facing a problem, though one that likely won’t surprise anyone who has followed the topic in recent years.
More students in Summit County are vaping than ever before, according to the results of a biennial state survey that questions students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 about topics like substance use and mental health.
The numbers are stark: In 2017, 5.6% of respondents indicated that they’d vaped in the preceding 30 days. In 2019, that number rose to 12.5%, above the state average of 9.7%. The trend is most pronounced among high school seniors, 23.4% of whom reported vaping during that time span compared to 9.8% in 2017.
While the participation rate in the survey fell short of the 60% the methodologists say is needed to view the results as a good indicator of behavior, the officials tasked with addressing substance abuse and behavioral health in the schools are taking the numbers seriously — especially because the data lines up with what local health officials have repeatedly said over the last few years: Student vaping is getting worse and it needs our attention.
Few would argue that vaping is as dangerous as student alcohol use or even underage marijuana use. But as the rash of vaping-related illnesses around the country last year underscored, there are health concerns, despite the perception of vaping as a “safer” alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes (it should be noted that the Center for Disease Control links the illnesses to an additive found in some THC vaping products but not in nicotine vaping products).
The truth is that, as vaping is still relatively new, the science surrounding the long-term health effects is still thin. Adults can make up their own minds about whether to take on the possible risks. Teens, though, are far better off heeding the Food and Drug Administration’s warning that vaping is not safe for youth and avoiding it altogether.
Combating the trend in Summit County’s schools will take a multi-pronged approach. The schools themselves have a significant role to play in both education and discipline, and many have begun training teachers about what to look out for. But some vape devices are designed to be inconspicuous and could even be mistaken for a USB drive, making catching students challenging.
The battle against student vaping, like that against underage alcohol use, begins in the home. It is imperative that parents educate their children about vaping and set firm expectations. Most children learn from an early age that smoking cigarettes underage won’t be tolerated (in the survey, only 1.8% reported smoking cigarettes in the preceding 30 days). They must understand that vaping is also unacceptable.
With proactive parents and vigilant schools, it seems likely that we can begin to reverse the trend. Hopefully, that happens sooner rather than later.
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