Student safety and well-being is a top priority at St. James R-I School District. We are committed to informing you and sharing the most current information on important topics and trends, so we can better protect each and every student. There are many issues we cannot tackle alone. We need the help of our parents and community for the safety and well-being of our students to combat a major problem affecting our children: vaping (smoking e-cigarettes).
Increased use of vaping devices amongst youth is not just a state and national phenomenon. Mid-Missouri rural school districts are also battling the popularity of the devices, and it’s presenting some unique challenges. E-cigarettes, or vaping devices, allow smokers to inhale and exhale aerosol, flavors and other chemicals including nicotine through an electronic device, which is regulated as a tobacco product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It has a different scent than heavy cigarette smoke. The smell of vape is fruity or more flowery. It’s not as noticeable. Everybody knows what a cigarette smells like; we don’t all know what vape smells like. The vapor smoke is feint. E-cigarettes are also easy to conceal because they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some even look like USB drives, pens, and also come under the guise of other creative and surreptitious forms.
Statewide, there has been a significant increase in the use of e-cigarettes among students in the last two years, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). The findings from a survey last year conducted by the Missouri Department of Mental Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported that more than 15 percent of Missouri students said they had smoked e-cigarettes within the last 30 days, up 5 percent from a similar survey in 2016.
E-cigarettes are prohibited at all St. James R-I campuses and buildings, including at athletic events. At the high school, we have seen a drastic spike in e-cigarette and vaping discipline referrals over the past two years with nearly 50 violations reported so far this school year. We have had 3 violations at the middle school and none at the elementary this year. The St. James R-I staff is doing everything possible to be sure students are educated on the harmful effects of e-cigarettes and vaping. We take the job of helping to keep our students healthy very seriously; therefore, we strictly enforce the policy. Our policy states possession or use of electronic cigarettes or other nicotine-delivery products on district property, district transportation or at any district activity is prohibited. The principals reach out to parents/guardians when students are found in violation of the policy. We are using education to combat the increase of youth vaping.
On October 15, Governor Parson signed an executive order calling for a coalition of state government departments to create and launch a campaign aimed at reducing youth vaping. Young people have mistakenly gotten the message that vaping is safe because they perceive it better than cigarettes; which is absolutely false. The department is working with other state departments including DESE on the campaign called “Clear the Air”. Health officials are concerned, in addition to nicotine addiction, that unknown damages from vaping have yet to be discovered.
DHSS reported 32 people in Missouri have a confirmed or probable case of electronic vaping associated lung injury. Eighteen of those cases involved youth ages 15-24. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not confirmed the exact cause of the e-cigarette or vaping-related associated lung illness (EVALI). The CDC has confirmed 1,604 probable cases of EVALI in the United States. Thirty-four related deaths have been confirmed, including one Missouri man. More research is necessary to confirm the exact dangers of vaping, but experts believe smoking e-cigarettes could leave solid particles in the lungs. The concern is youth who vape have a higher chance of moving on to smoking cigarettes.
From the bus driver who picks a student up in the morning to the custodian who is cleaning up the school in the middle of the night, all of our staff members care about the well being of our students. Based on the increasing evidence presented about the dangers of vaping, it would be negligent on our part to NOT share data with students about the potential dangers of vaping. We are not making an indictment against any adult who chooses to vape, and we are not suggesting that it is better to smoke cigarettes rather than use a vape. What we are doing, just as we do with texting and driving, underage drinking, drug use, and many other safety concerns, is educating students that there can be harmful consequences.
One comment we hear frequently is, “It is the parents’ job to teach their children these things.” I agree 100%. I am thankful we have many parents who teach about all of the dangers mentioned and much more. There is no question in my mind that the home is the best place for these lessons to occur, allowing parents to interject their belief system into these discussions. The reality is, too many children are not being exposed to this information at home. Therefore, we have an obligation to share information, statistics, research, and other materials to help students make healthy choices. In the end, we hope our work in teaching them to be critical thinkers will provide the basis for them to analyze the information we are sharing and make choices that are best for them.