Decades ago, school administrators had to contend with students sharing packs of cigarettes on campus. Those days, thankfully, are pretty much over. Unfortunately, the nicotine itself hasn’t gone away—only the method of using it has changed.

Vaping has become a major issue in high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. A 2022 survey found that more than 3 million high school and middle school students were current users of any tobacco product. E-cigarettes, which are often known as vapes, vape pens, and by many other names, are by far the most common nicotine product that young people use.

It’s important to fully understand just how dangerous vaping is for people of all ages, and especially for kids, teens, and young adults. Here’s what we all need to know about vaping—and how schools can help keep kids safe.

What is Vaping?

Vaping devices work by heating liquid and creating a vapour that the user inhales. Most vaping devices include flavouring in addition to chemicals like nicotine that affect the brain in both the short and long term. Unlike cigarettes, which have a generally unpleasant taste and smell, vapes come in many different flavours and aren’t as harsh for the user.

With that said, vaping still comes with many of the same health risks as using other nicotine products. Nicotine is highly addictive and can be especially harmful to young people. Vape devices are relatively easy to get, and many students report that they use them daily. They can also be used to consume marijuana.

The Rise of Vaping Among Teens

E-cigarettes are fairly new, being introduced for the first time around 20 years ago. They were originally marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, although we now know that vaping still carries many health risks.

Some manufacturers of e-cigarettes deliberately marketed their products to young people, resulting in a spike in popularity and usage. Vaping has become trendy among teens, even if the companies with these marketing techniques are no longer allowed to promote their products to young people.

It’s not surprising that vapes are popular among students. Peer pressure is a powerful force, and it can lead to kids trying out vaping and even becoming addicted. The flavours and discreet nature of vaping are also appealing factors, creating even more popularity among teens. Beyond initially falling into the habit, teens can often turn to vaping during times of mental distress rather than coping with stress in a healthier way.

The Health Risks of Vaping

Vaping might seem like a safer alternative to smoking since it does not produce smelly smoke that can be offensive to both the user and the people around them. However, this is a myth, and these misconceptions are dangerous, especially for kids who are trying these products thinking they are safe. Vapes contain a variety of harmful chemicals and heavy metals.

The most obvious health risk of vaping, of course, is addiction. Almost every vape device on the market uses nicotine in its cartridges. Nicotine is highly addictive, whether it comes from a cigarette, cigar, chewing tobacco, or vape.

Beyond its addictive qualities, nicotine can also have a negative impact on brain development. The brain is not fully mature until someone is in their mid-to-late twenties. Kids and teens who start using nicotine in middle school and high school can start to experience issues like having difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things. This can affect their academic performance and make things more difficult when they move on into the workplace.

Additionally, vaping has been known to cause heart and lung problems. Asthma, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease are all risks that can affect people of all ages. Damaging these key organs early in life can affect overall health later in life.

The Role of Schools in Addressing Student Vaping

Students spend a huge amount of their time at school, and many of those who use vapes do so on school property. It’s important for schools to help reduce vaping, both on and off campus. It’s a school’s duty to protect students as best they can. Additionally, vaping has a negative impact on student learning.

Schools need to create clear policies about vaping on school grounds and consistently enforce them through monitoring and surveillance. However, deterrents alone are not enough to keep students from using vapes. This needs to be combined with education, through methods like health classes and workshops. A non-punitive approach is often the most effective.

Approaching anti-vaping education must be handled with care. Engagement is key, which can often be achieved through strategies like interactive lessons, bringing in guest speakers, and using different mediums to teach kids about the dangers of vaping. These lessons need to be kept age-appropriate and tailored to different age groups.

Students also need to have support for avoiding vaping or quitting. This is why it’s so important for the approach to be non-punitive—students need to feel safe if they need help. Counselling services that can help students change their patterns, can be very helpful in early addiction intervention. Peer mentoring is also a great option.

Parental Involvement and Education

It’s critical for schools to get parents on board and to educate them about the dangers of vaping. Many parents are unaware that their children are vaping, or they themselves don’t understand just how harmful it can be. Schools can help parents get the facts and provide tips for how parents can watch out for warning signs or have tough conversations.

Obviously, parental engagement varies. Schools need to provide support and do what they can for both the students and their families. Providing resources, workshops, and other opportunities can help set families up for success.

Staying Dedicated to Vaping Prevention in Schools

New products are always coming out and students will always find ways to hide what they’re doing. However, it’s important for school administrators, teachers, and parents to continue working together and to prevent students from vaping as much as possible.

Staying dedicated and continuing to provide educational resources and support is key. It’s an ongoing project with no end date. A proactive approach will help to keep vapes out of school—and out of the hands of the students they harm.