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Student Smoking

To Vape and JUUL: Teenagers Are Doing It. What Schools Are Doing About It.


You used to be able to see it – and smell it – from down the hall. In high schools across America, boys rooms turned into smokers lounges for the few minutes between class periods. When you opened the door, a cloud of pungent cigarette smoke would waft into your face.

Kids had their systems – a lookout watching the door, a secret knock on the stall when a teacher came in – but it was tough to hide what they were doing. A smoldering cigarette butt is an obvious piece of evidence.

Not so with an electronic cigarette. E-cigarettes, or vapes, are battery-powered devices that heat cartridges of nicotine-mixed liquids into inhalable vapors. Unlike a cigarette, a vape smoker can take one quick drag and stuff it in his or her pocket. Some devices look like household devices, even thumb drives that can even be plugged into laptops to charge. Many of the vapors have aromas like air fresheners or give off little scent at all. They’re so easy to use that students can take a puff while their teachers are standing at the blackboard and exhale in their sweatshirts.

All of this has made it far harder for school employees to catch a student vaping than smoking cigarettes. And where there’s an opening, there has been no shortage of students willing to exploit it.

According to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, just 1 percent of high school girls and 2 percent of boys were e-cigarette users in 2011. By 2015, those numbers had ballooned to 13 and 19 percent, respectively. In fact, USA Today reported that e-cigarette use has been declared an “epidemic” by the FDA, with the FDA issuing a warning to manufacturers that they may suspend sales entirely unless certain conditions are met regarding curtailing youth access to the drug.

The unchallenged heavyweight of the vape market is JUUL. Like Dumpster or Tupperware, JUUL is a company so prominent in its space that their products have become synonymous with the whole genre – thus, smoking e-cigarettes is commonly called “Juuling”. And just as they are with e-cigarette smokers as a whole, JUUL products are wildly popular among young people.

Crime and Punishment?

The question is what to do about it.

In a regulatory environment where many schools are burdened with increasingly onerous requirements to log and report potentially dangerous behaviors, such as the HIB regulations in New Jersey, schools are increasingly seeking out solutions that make it easier to report and manage escalation of troublesome behavior and incidents. Historically, teachers have shouldered most of the responsibility for identifying and reporting, but technology-assisted solutions such as anonymous reporting apps are making it easier and safer for students to own their courage. With a few simple taps on their mobile phone, students can alert trusted personnel to incidents that threaten themselves or others, like cutting and other suicidal ideation behaviors, drug use, threats of deadly violence and now, vaping.

But reporting is only the first step in resolution. Once a report is submitted, the protocol for escalating and resolving that incident is extremely important -- and the decision of who is the best, first responder and the criteria for involving partners from other organizations is important. For instance, vaping is treated as a misdemeanor offense in many communities, so school administrators and law enforcement are equally rational choices as a first responder to vaping reports? But which is best?

Responses have been all over the map in American schools.

Feeling like the situation has careened out of control, many New Jersey districts, for example, have made it a police matter. Those caught vaping in school are reported directly to law enforcement and can face fines and court-mandated community service, along with harsh school penalties like mandatory drug tests and suspensions.

Others prefer not to outsource the decision to police. They understand that good kids make mistakes and worry that a police record could imperil their future. Sometimes, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

STOPit empowers school faculty to use their own judgment in these situations. When an anonymous report about students vaping comes in, it is not automatically passed on to the authorities. It is typically received by a teacher or administrator chosen before the system’s launch, investigated as the situation warrants, and handled accordingly. Reports can be passed on to police on a case-by-case basis.

However, STOPit can be customized to function according to the protocol of individual districts. If schools choose for reports of specific infractions, such as vaping on school grounds, to be copied to local police, that option can be programmed into the system during setup. Whatever a district’s leaders determine to be the best course, STOPit can help.

“The app and incident management tools are designed to allow for flexibility in how reports are handled, accommodating the unique needs and culture of the client. The best people to make decisions about how to escalate and/or resolve a report are the people closest to the community, and STOPit honors that by giving their customers complete control of the process.” - Neil Hooper, STOPit CRO.

Call STOPit today to learn more about the most widely adopted anonymous reporting application used by schools. The STOPit platform empowers schools to deploy custom anonymous reporting and incident management solutions that work best for their specific issues and community.

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