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Cape Cod schools take aggressive approach to vaping – News – capecodtimes.com


Focus on health impact, disciplinary measures result in decline in some districts.

As the number of reported lung ailments and fatalities linked to vaping and e-cigarette use continues to climb nationwide, Cape school officials say those dire statistics, along with the information they are providing to students, may have the total of young vape users locally on the decline.

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,080 lung injury cases associated with use of e-cigarettes or vaping products have been reported nationally. Eighteen deaths have been confirmed — along with first death in Massachusetts announced Monday by the State Department of Public Health in a woman in her 60s from Hampshire County.

Perhaps even more frightening is the increasing percentages of high school and middle school users those statistics reveal. Nationally, the percentage of high school students using e-cigarettes has gone from 1.5 percent in 2011 to nearly 21 percent in 2018. Middle school users climbed from 0.6 percent in 2011 to about 5 percent in 2018, according to the CDC.

Although it is still too early to tell whether Massachusetts statistics will retreat in the wake of Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-month ban imposed last month on all vape product sales, school officials on the Cape say they have been battling the problem since last year, when it peaked in many districts, and they are seeing a downward trend so far this school year.

“Last fall, I joked I never thought that, as a principal, my main job would be bathroom monitor,” Falmouth High School Principal Mary Gans said. “Parents were coming to us and asking what we were going to do about it, but the students were not just vaping during the school day.”

The district worked with county health experts and presented a series of educational forums for parents last year, showing them what the products looked like and warning what the health risks were.

Information on the dangers of vaping was integrated into the health units starting in Falmouth’s fifth grade classes and going through high school.

There were plenty of misconceptions, Falmouth schools Superintendent Lori Duerr said. “The students were really believing it was vape water, compared to the chemicals and aerosols that are in it,” she said.

High school students caught vaping are required to watch a module on its dangers and to write a paper on what they learn, Gans said. Vaping also constitutes a health violation under the rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association used by the state’s high schools. Violators lose game time in their respective sports.

“So far this year, we feel like fewer students are vaping,” Gans said. “I don’t know if it’s the health scare or parents and guardians are more invested.”

At Barnstable High School, the Cape’s largest secondary school, student vape use is being aggressively addressed.

“This (youth vaping epidemic) came on like a freight train, and nobody was prepared,” said Pam Ciborowski, the school district’s nursing and wellness coordinator.

Last year, the school put out a robocall to parents alerting them to the vaping crisis. The issue of vaping and its accompanying dangers were discussed during open houses and sports night events, which can attract as many as 500 attendees.

With the beginning of the new school year, three campus monitors were hired to be the “eyes and ears of the building,” according to Assistant Principal Scott Pyy.

“They are not confronting kids, but building relationships” he said. “We weren’t looking for a security force, but a positive adult interaction.”

The monitors notify school administrators when there is a problem, who in turn connect the student with resources to address whatever the issue is. In cases where a student is seen vaping, the device is confiscated and parents are notified. The Barnstable school resource officer also may become involved to determine what substance was being vaped.

Ciborowski said she hopes to start a nicotine cessation program in the near future for Barnstable students who vape and are now addicted to nicotine.

Students are often more receptive to anti-vaping messages when they come from other students instead of from adults, said Kenneth Jenks, assistant superintendent of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District. And some D-Y high school students are applying peer pressure in a positive way.

Through a grant from the Barnstable County Regional Substance Abuse Council, D-Y students in Reade Whinnem’s media production class filmed three public service announcements at the close of the last school year, aimed at dispelling common misconceptions about vaping.

“Do you really believe the vaping is safe?” a student’s voice asks viewers, while vapors swirl around the screen. “You think it’s just water vapor? Think again.”

The announcement goes on to say that e-cigarette ingredients include propylene glycol; diacetyl; heavy metals such as chromium, nickel and lead; and high doses of nicotine.

“Don’t be the next generation to get fooled into a lifelong addiction that could have significant debilitating consequences for your health,” the announcement warns.

Falmouth and Barnstable considered using vape detectors in places where students gather but have not made the move. Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich has installed two detectors, but officials were unwilling to say where.

“By no means are they a cure-all,” said the technical school district’s superintendent, Robert Sanborn. “All it does is report it electronically to whomever we want to respond.”

Vape devices are confiscated, and student vape users are provided with material on the health risks.

A few weeks into the school year at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School in Bourne, students were already receiving suspensions for vaping, and in a couple of cases, for vaping cannabis products, according to school Principal Roger Forget. School officials found that family members, particularly older siblings, have been the source of vaping supplies to underage students.

The vocational school has instituted some tough measures, requiring all students caught vaping or possessing a vape product to be tested for drugs at their own expense.

Lower Cape students at Nauset Regional High School have shown a “tremendous shift away from vaping” this fall, according to Principal Christopher Elsasser.

Officials at the high school last year saw the vaping issue “as a health crisis for our kids,” he said. School officials discussed the research and the health risks of vaping.

If a student was caught vaping in the bathroom, school officials would sit down with the parents and require the student to use the nurse’s bathroom in the future.

“They said over the summer, there was a complete change in kids’ attitudes to vaping,” Elsasser said of reports he had received from school advisers. “I’ve never seen such a change in student behavior.”

The governor’s ban should be helpful, the Nauset principal said. “It reinforces what we’ve been saying.”

Staff writers Ethan Genter, Cynthia McCormick, Kristen Young and Geoffrey Spillane contributed to this report. Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.



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