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Local students: Vaping in class, school bathrooms a 'social norm'

teen vaping panel.jpg
Posted at 4:19 PM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 23:40:14-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — School districts, lawmakers and even some students are waging a war on vaping, trying to stop it from happening in school classrooms and bathrooms.

Five local students from four districts told 41 Action News just what they see at school.

“It is just so easy to hide,” said Corrine Benedict, a junior.

Cade Killingsworth, a senior, said it's a "common thing."

"It’s socially accepted now. It’s a social norm,” Killingsworth said.

According to a spring 2019 survey, more than 48 percent of Kansas students in grades 9 through 12 have used a vaping product, an almost 40 percent increase from 2017.

More than 5 percent of those surveyed said they had vaped daily for the past 30 days, which represents a 271 percent increase since the 2017 Kansas Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

In Missouri, a 2017 survey showed more than 39 percent of students grades 9 through 12 had used a vaping product.

Some school districts have filed lawsuits. Missouri Governor Mike Parson recently announced a new campaign called 'Clear The Air’ to spread awareness about the dangers of vaping to teenagers.

The campaign includes emphasized enforcement at retailers who sell vaping products.

Missouri law bans selling tobacco and vaping products to anyone younger than 18 years old.

Kansas State Board of Education member Janet Waugh represents districts in northeastern Kansas, including Kansas City and Shawnee Mission. She said the board is encouraging local districts to update their policies to ban any tobacco-related products, including vaping products, on school property. That would include everything from school buildings to football fields and buses, she said.

Waugh also said the state board will recommend the legislature raise the age to buy tobacco and vaping products statewide to 21 and ban flavored vaping products.

The five students on the panel said they have never tried vaping, but told 41 Action News Anchor Lindsay Shively they are offered vaping products often.

“Multiple times a week,” Killingsworth said.

“During class,” Benedict said.

“Yeah, a lot during class,” said Aubrey Archanbeau, an eighth grader.

“There’s down periods where we get a worksheet and a teacher is working on a computer and they’re just sitting there, and our backs are to, so it’s so much easier for them to just lean down in their backpack or do it in their shirt and I’m just sitting there next to them,” Benedict said.

41 Action News asked the Missouri National Education Association about how teachers handle vaping in schools. Mark Jones, political director of the MNEA, sent the following statement:

“As teachers and school employees, student wellbeing is at the center of everything we do," he wrote. "Vaping devices can be highly addictive and are easily concealed. We want to educate students to make healthy choices and know the risks of using nicotine products. Education coupled with enforcement of laws to prevent selling to minors is the best way to protect student health.”

“It’s not like they’re purposely ignoring it,” Killingsworth said about teachers in the classroom. “They’re just not catching it.”

“People, when they wear hoodies, kind of duck in and put it over their nose,” said Aliyah Azam, a freshman.

She said she doesn’t see vaping in her classes, but school bathrooms are a different story.

“If you see multiple backpacks in a stall lined up around the rim so no one can see inside and you hear girls giggling inside, there’s not much that they could be doing,” Aliyah said.

“There is one specific bathroom that is kind of away from all the classrooms,” said Aidan Robinson, a junior.

Tri-County Mental Health Services in the Northland recently released videos addressing youth vaping. The organization works with schools, parents and children.

Sherri Miller is a youth prevention specialist with Tri-County Mental Health Services who oversees “Youth With Vision,” a student-led group with students from more than a dozen Northland school districts.

“The primary goal of Youth With Vision is to impact social policy surrounding substance use issues like Tobacco 21,” she said.

Tobacco 21 is a national campaign to raise the legal age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21 years old.

Tri-County Mental Health Services recently posted a blog about their "active role in vaping education and prevention" including the work of “Youth With Vision,” which recently recorded vaping PSAs.

All but one student 41 Action News spoke with is a member of Youth With Vision.

“I know a lot of the middle schoolers are getting them from their older siblings who are in high school and can get them from seniors,” Archanbeau said.

“It’s not hard to find a senior in high school who wants to make a quick buck," Killingsworth said. "They’ll buy you something after school, bring it to you the next day, make some money off of it."

The CDC said most vaping products contain nicotine, which can be highly addictive and harm a young, developing brain.

Some students said they believe they see evidence of addiction already.

“Now they have nicotine pouches, like ‘Oh, I’m trying to stop vaping but I have this pouch,’” Benedict said.

“They can’t wait an hour and thirty minutes for class to get over, they have to do it in class,” Robinson said.

What can parents do?

Jordan Roberts, prevention program manager with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said there are signs parents can look for that might indicate their child is vaping, and possibly facing addiction.

Roberts said parents should be on the lookout for unusual items that could be vaping devices, and sweet or fruity smells.

“Many teens use flavored pods,” Roberts said.

She also said to watch for changes in thirst or taste, nosebleeds or an unexplained cough.

When it comes to signs of addiction, Roberts said watch for headaches, trouble concentrating or sleeping, hunger, restlessness, feelings of irritability, anger or depression.

If you do find your child is vaping, Roberts suggests talking to them about why you don’t want them to vape and the signs of addiction.

“Children do care what their parents think,” she said.

She also shared a parent tip sheet about how to talk to your children about vaping.

If you feel your child is addicted, Roberts recommended talking with their doctor.