School pushback on vaping epidemic

School pushback on vaping epidemic

Sydney Jezik, News

More than 44,000 students nationally from grades 8-12 took part in the 2018 annual survey of drug, alcohol and cigarette use. Reported 12th grade use alone jumped from 28% to 37% from 2017 to 2018. Vaping of each substance asked about in the survey increased, including flavored liquids, nicotine and marijuana. 

And, according to current American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) trends, which report incredible jumps in vaping tool sales among other, similar products, these statistics are predominantly bound to increase.

These statistics have roots at Waunakee High School, too. The 2018 Dane County Youth Assessment showed a spike in youth vaping between 2015 and 2018. Waunakee students reported above-average vaping for the county. 

Further, while vape usage is rising, its effects are becoming very clear. In October the first double lung transplant for lungs diseased by vaping took place at a Michigan hospital. In less than a year, the junior-grade student involved received serious “inflammation and scarring” to his lungs.

As a result of the government-dubbed “national emergency” of vaping, and of increasingly troubling local data, concerned staff and students at Waunakee are taking a stand.

“Vaping is an issue at school and everywhere,” said senior Natalie Kazynski. “I don’t think that it’s very noticeable because the people creating [vape tools] have found ways to hide it, and that’s not okay… the numbers of people doing it will only keep rising until someone does something about it.”

Several large clubs, like Above the Influence (ATI) and Pay It Forward, have come together on the issue. Students and teachers collaborated to create a homecoming pep rally skit to raise awareness about vaping. 

The skit required several meetings and the writing and acting of several people, including senior and co-author Natalie Kazynski, senior Noah Dorn and Social Studies instructor Corina Rogers. Dorn’s character asked out several girls to homecoming, but got rejected every time because he was a vaper. At the end, he was finally accepted by a girl who pulled out a stretcher for him.

“I got involved with the skit through Mrs. Rogers and other interested students about the vaping topic,” said Kazynski. “We had a meeting during the week of homecoming and decided we wanted to put a skit together that would get the message across about how dangerous vaping is. I got involved with it because the club I am a part of, ATI, focused on that topic… at the beginning of the semester so I thought that I could try to spread the information through the skit.

“I also got involved because I have a personal connection to someone who vapes, and it has hurt their life and the people around them, too.”

“I know [vaping] is going on far more than I can catch,” said assistant principal Eric Huttenberg. He said that while he was not personally seen many vape tools in the school, his transition from teacher to associate principal alone have made him much more aware of the amount of vaping at the high school.

Administration relies on the voices of parents, teachers and students to find students who are vaping. As such, “we do actively encourage students and teachers to report,” said assistant principal Steven Hernandez.

Anti-vaping advocates at the high school have made a point of emphasizing that vaping is a very serious health concern, not just a legal one. 

High school social worker Jessica Moehn is the high school’s recently installed ATODA Coordinator. ATODA stands for Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Coordinator.

“I work on prevention within the community and the school,” said Moehn. “I do a lot of work with the Waunakee Community Cares Coalition, comprised of parents, law enforcement, public health representatives, youth, teachers, faith leaders and several others to do work through the [community].”

Moehn is primarily involved with education and awareness. Last year, she was a part of creating the new JUUL awareness posters around the school. Her position and her efforts have been in response to the local statistics from the Dane County Youth Assessment. 

In addition to the efforts of students and Moehn’s work, the school board has taken action. It amended several policies around ATODA to include restrictions on e-cigarettes and vaping. 

“The school has always been tobacco-free, but this now includes e-cigs and vapes in that definition of banned products,” said Moehn. “Students, parents and visitors are not permitted to have vapes on school grounds… We hosted a presentation for parents to come and learn about vaping and I have hosted some presentations during parent-teacher conferences to educate parents and teachers.”

When a student is caught vaping, administration undergoes a process. According to assistant principal Deanne Lensert, the JUUL or e-cigarette is confiscated and the police are contacted, because the activity, of course, is illegal. Then administration gets in touch with parents and, if the student is involved in co-curricular activities, Athletic Director Aaron May is contacted. Further, Moehn is brought in to educate the student on the health and safety issues with vaping. 

However, many students obtain JUULs and other vaping tools from older people, like friends or siblings. They do so through illegal loans and purchases. When kept under the radar like this, it is impossible to prevent minors from vaping, at least at home.