By Dale Boyd
Roughly one third of School District 23’s population in middle school or older have tried vaping, according to the superintendent of schools.
Three students in the school district appear to have had “really negative reactions to the amounts of nicotine in the vaping e-juice they were using off-campus,” said Kevin Kaardal, SD23 superintendent of schools.
“A lot of parents don’t understand how dangerous it is,” SD23 chair Moyra Baxter told Peachland district council at the Nov. 12 committee of the whole.
No smoking is allowed on school grounds including vaping, but enforcement is a real challenge according to school district officials.
“Even if we had sensors outside the washroom doors, you’d have principals running down and then, what? Well, the person who vaped left. We don’t do body searches,” Kaardal said, adding it is easy for students to quickly hide vaping devices.
If caught vaping in schools, students can have their devices confiscated, but they are eventually returned to parents. If parents refuse to take the devices, they are then handed over to the RCMP. Though some parents are giving their vaping devices back to students after being confiscated, trustees said.
“It’s very challenging to enforce it, but if you do actually see somebody and we’re able to take a photo, we can use that photo, they can get a $56 ticket,” Kaardal said.
Education about vaping has started with Grade 5 students in the school district, though it is less of a “scared straight,” program and more focused on informative educational resources.
“It’s quite interesting when it has been prototyped out in the community. Grade 5s are really mad when they find out these are huge companies like Phillip Morris that are tricking them,” with flavours and marketing including different shapes of vaping devices, Kaardal said.
Some students have taken to tricking their teachers into unwittingly charging their vape devices shaped like USB drives as well.
“Students are trying to get teachers to use their computers to power up their vapes to recharge them,” Kaardal said. “We have rules about people bringing external drives in the school, I want to be clear about that.”
School districts are working with the Interior Health Authority (IHA) on a coordinated approach primarily focused on education, broadening health programs from Grade 5 up. Addiction relief is the next step with IHA.
“A lot of students are now addicted to nicotine. It’s a significant amount of nicotine in some of these products and you can get addicted very, very quickly,” Kaardal said. “Cessation programs for that are now a worry for us.”
A developing black market on vaping is drawing concern as well. Of the 40 deaths in the U.S. related to vaping illness 29 were connected to black market e-juice which contained cannabis.
Vaping may not be the most important issue facing the school district according to Kaardal.
“There are lots of other concerns I think are even more significant in terms of education and health, like mental health and food scarcity, than vaping,” Kaardal said.
There have been four cases of vaping-related illnesses in B.C., but no deaths related to vaping in the province.