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Can Tech Help Ohio Schools Crack Down on Student Vaping?

The increase of vaping among teens has prompted officials in some school systems to install special sensors to identify signs of it. Recent reports about the dangers of vaping products have upped the ante on the issue.

by JoAnne Viviano, The Columbus Dispatch / September 23, 2019
A vaping device among school supplies. Shutterstock/Chris Allan

(TNS) — As public health officials continue to warn about the use of e-cigarettes, more central Ohio school districts are considering adding monitors to discourage their use among minors.

Last week, the Hilliard City School District added vaping detectors, making it at least the second area district to opt for the devices. Earlier this month, the Olentangy Local school board voted to install vape detectors in its high schools.

In a Wednesday blog post, Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen indicated that two detectors would be placed at each of that district's three high schools.

"The recent proliferation of vape-type devices is a significant public health concern," he wrote. "We still don't know the long-term health impact, but health officials are alarmed at potential deadly consequences."

Columbus City Schools spokeswoman Jacqueline Bryant said she was unaware of any plans to install vape detectors in the more than 100 schools in the district, the state's largest with about 49,000 students.

"Vaping isn't something we're seeing in our buildings," Bryant said.

Dublin City Schools have considered detectors. New Albany-Plain Local Schools are waiting to learn from districts that begin using them, and the South-Western City School District and Licking Heights Local Schools are looking into their viability.

"As vaping detectors are relatively new, we have not yet purchased any for the district," said Licking Heights spokeswoman Mallory Sribanditmongkol. "However, as we move toward opening our new high school in August 2020, we are considering technology like this, and it is currently being studied by district administrators and our architects."

It's the latest tactic in efforts to curb vaping among youth and young adults, who are increasingly picking up the habit.

The National Institutes of Health Monitoring the Future Survey show that the percentage of high school seniors who had vaped nicotine in the previous 30 days increased from 11% to 21% from 2017 to 2018. Vaping among 10th graders increased from 8% to 16%, and vaping among eighth graders increased from 3.5% to 6.1%.

Tim Freeman, associate executive director of the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators, said he is hearing about vape detectors, but noted that they are cost prohibitive for many schools. Olentangy Local is spending nearly $64,000 on the detectors for its four high schools.

E-cigarettes heat a liquid — containing nicotine, THC, CBD or other substances — to produce an aerosol that is inhaled by users.

Advocates say they are a safer alternative to help adult smokers of traditional cigarettes quit or cut back, but manufacturers have been criticized for pandering to youth by adding appealing flavors.

Concern over their use at any age has intensified as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta continues to track reports of people suffering sometimes-fatal lung illnesses after using e-cigarettes.

Ohio has 17 related cases, including three in Franklin County, and an additional 22 illnesses are being investigated, the state Department of Health reported Thursday. The confirmed cases involve patients ages 16 to 59 who all were hospitalized. So far in Ohio, no one has died.

The CDC said initial data shows that most of the patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, and some have reported using only nicotine. No specific e-cigarette product or substance has been linked to all cases.

Locally, the numbers prompted Franklin County Public Health to release a statement Friday saying it "strongly urges people to stop using all e-cigarette or vaping products immediately."

The Ohio Department of Health is spending $4.1 million over two years to increase education about e-cigarettes and provide communities with resources to help reduce use, and Gov. Mike DeWine is examining whether he has legal authority to ban the sale of flavored vaping products.

A new law championed by the governor, which will go into effect Oct. 17, will change the statewide legal age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21.

A number of schools have been addressing the issue, updating tobacco and drug policies to include vaping. Some have held parent, student and staff sessions or workshops on the topic, added vaping information to curriculum or increased substance-use counseling services.

Among other changes, Licking Heights updated policies on the safe handling of vapes after two staff members were treated at a hospital due to an adverse reaction after coming into contact with an e-cigarette cartridge. In Hilliard, the policy review committee of the Board of Education plans to discuss such policies at its upcoming meeting.

Pickerington Local School District includes nicotine among the substances that are tested for in athletes' drug screenings. If detected, the student misses 25% of the season, reduced to 10% with the completion of counseling.

Freeman said the issue continues to be addressed, as administrators face ever-advancing technology.

"It really is reaching a point where the creativity of young minds and technology is a challenge for schools and school policy," he said. "And the principals and boards of education and superintendents in Ohio are trying very hard to keep policies and handbooks and intervention plans up-to-date."

For help quitting tobacco products or e-cigarettes, contact your doctor, call the Ohio Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW) or go to the Ohio Department of Health website for additional resources.

©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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