Dear YFS –
My daughter is a senior at the high school. I hear rumors that students vape in the bathrooms and that nothing is being done to stop them. How true is this?
Vaping is a current issue for many high schools across the country. Vaping heating cartridges of glycol combined with flavoring and/or nicotine or THC (the active ingredient in marijuana). Though Mercer Island High School (MIHS) staff report an increase in students vaping in bathrooms, these incidents represent a small minority of MIHS students. The school is aware and is acting to prevent vaping and address related disciplinary issues.
Parents, and the community, can take pride in that only 25 percent of MIHS students report having ever tried vaping (2018)—a category that includes electronic cigarettes, vaping pens, electronic hookahs, hookah pens, etc.). While still a real concern, this is substantially lower than the national average of 36 percent.
However, with only 6 percent of MIHS students reported ever vaping in 2016, it is a trend.
The rumors you are hearing might be influenced by the misperception among students and parents that “everyone is doing it.” Unfortunately, it can be human nature for youth risk behaviors to be exaggerated.
This does not minimize the concern but can be problematic if the story told on social media or in line at a coffee shop makes it seem that it is “normal.” When youth hear this, it influences what they think is normal behavior among their peers—a strong predictor of their behavior.
RT, as a parent, it is important to explain that, just like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, MOST MIHS students do not engage in vaping. In fact, although just 25 percent of MIHS students have ever tried vape, the perception among students is that most (85 percent) have—a significant misperception.
In response, YFS and the MIHS student “SAFE Club” are partnering to message that most MIHS students actually choose not to vape—a modification of the “Most Of Us” social norms campaigns. Schools are also aware of the trend. Disciplinary action for students caught vaping at school is a 10-day suspension; reduced to three days if the student completes a drug/alcohol assessment and follows up with treatment recommendations. The school makes every effort to monitor problem areas on campus and uses infractions as an opportunity to encourage students to get help.
Vaping is a challenging issue. Vape products are too easy to get on-line and safety regulations have not caught-up with the exploding market. Vaping devices are discreet, can be charged with a USB port and, due to the minimal smell of vapor, are a challenge to monitor.
To decrease the chances that your child will use vape products, include the topic in your regular talks on substance use and health. Regularly let them know that you care deeply about their well-being and that you do not want their health compromised in any way.
Parents really are the No. 1 reason youth choose not to use substances.
Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for informational purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. The answers to questions are not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, psychological, financial, medical, legal or other professional advice. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email firstname.lastname@example.org.