PLATTSBURGH — Vaping among students has skyrocketed over the past year, Saranac High School Principal Steven Grenville said.
"I don’t see it as being limited to a particular socioeconomic group or clique."
Peru Central School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Palmer echoed that sentiment.
"I think it’s just a cultural acceptance piece right now. It’s not really tightly wound by one part of your student population."
In past years, cigarette smoking was a big problem among students, though that has dwindled as vaping has emerged, Grenville said.
When you search for cigarettes, you know what they smell and look like — not always so with vaping devices.
"These (vaping devices) could look like a pencil or a pen," Grenville said.
"It comes in so many shapes and sizes," Palmer said, mentioning thumb drives and sweatshirt drawstrings.
"If I showed you five things on a desk, you wouldn’t know probably three of them."
Palmer said traditional combustible cigarettes were popular and inexpensive back in the 1970s.
"Now cigarettes are much more expensive. But the funny thing about the vaping is it’s even more expensive."
According to data collected by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes in New York State as of July 1 is $10.47, all taxes included.
Locally, a vaping starter kit costs about $25, with e-juice coming in at $10 to $20.
Palmer has spoken with parents about staying aware of the sources of their children's finances, such as cafeteria money, and whether that money is being used for other purposes.
Both Palmer and Grenville noted that students appear to vape predominately in bathrooms.
Saranac is piloting some devices in a couple of its restrooms that detect vapor and smoke, then notify Grenville and Saranac Middle and High School Assistant Principal Michael White what substance tripped them and when.
The administrators then check the cameras to determine who came and went around the time the alert went out.
Grenville believes letting the public — and students — know about the vape detectors will help deter use.
"It’s like seeing the speed trap. Before you get to it, you slow down."
Palmer said Peru is also looking into the detectors, but is observing how they play out at Saranac before proposing purchasing them to his board.
The detectors can cost up to $1,000 apiece, said Jeff Sisson, health, safety and risk management specialist at Champlain Valley Educational Services.
Champlain Valley Family Center for Drug Treatment and Youth Services, Inc., has put on presentations at both Saranac and Peru.
At Saranac, students are receiving information on vaping in health class, though Grenville said it is too soon to tell if these prevention and awareness efforts have had any effect.
Peru is additionally working with law enforcement to draw on their knowledge of this issue, and plans to bring in a speaker close in age to its students, Palmer said.
He believes the best method is to work through parents but, at this point, he is not seeing enough buy-in.
"We’ve had two (parent) sessions and we’ve had maybe four parents total."
Peru is planning another parent-oriented forum, and wants to try and reach families through alternative methods, such as podcasts and social media.
Palmer would like to put parent resources on Peru's website soon, but has found it difficult to find research that consistently supports one side or the other.
He would advise parents to check in on what their kids are talking and writing about on social media platforms.
Sisson has provided information to area school districts on vaping during his beginning-of-the-year presentations this and last September, including clues that might indicate students are vaping in class.
As of Monday, he had visited almost all CVES's component school districts.
On Tuesday, news had come out about a sixth vaping-related illness death in the U.S., this time in Kansas.
In a statement issued Sept. 5, New York State Department of Health said it had received reports of 34 cases of severe lung disease linked to vaping use.
The department said all patients were using at least one cannabis-containing vape product, though all reported recently using various others.
The statement goes on to say the investigation would focus on vitamin E acetate, which is not an approved additive for the state's medical marijuana program, but was found in nearly all of the cannabis-containing samples analyzed.
The department warned against use of vaping products procured "off the streets" from black market sources, which most of the suspected cartridges came from.
Sisson said he has spoken with school employees about a similar issue cropping up among students.
"It seems like at least half of the students that we have are maybe not buying pre-filled pods, so they’re actually either using other people’s homemade vape or e-juice or they’re making their own."
Grenville said, at this point, it is hard to tell for sure if students' vaping devices contain nicotine or marijuana oil.
HANGING IN THE AIR
In the broader scheme of school safety, Sisson considers dealing with vaping another piece of the puzzle.
When you talk about a healthy school climate, you think of components like emotional and physical health.
"And part of physical health is to teach and model and promote healthy behaviors and reduce risky behaviors and this is just one of many risky behaviors," he said.
Sadly, rampant vaping use is like a research study we will not know the results of for years, Sisson said.
"The results are just hanging in the air, no pun intended, until people start getting sick."
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Vapedemic: Vaping in the North Country
Vaping among young people has become a serious concern in recent years, and North Country schools and educational programs are taking notice and steps to curb the practice.
The Press-Republican staff recently met with leaders in education and government to discuss how much vaping has gripped the youth of the community, state and nation, and what can and should be done about it.
We also talked with those who sell vaping, or e-cigarette, products, and those who actually vape to get a full perspective on the hot-button issue.
This two-part series entitled Vapedemic, will run today and Saturday.
Today's segment features local educators and health officials discussing vaping in schools, its impact on scholastic athletics, and the potential health consequences.