In addition to all the political drama taking place right now, there has also been an increased amount of national media coverage on vaping related deaths. While vaping is supposed to be a healthier alternative to smoking, reports show it causes people’s lungs to have chemical burns and other severe chemical exposure. Some cases have been so serious that the person eventually passed away and it’s those deaths that have sparked the increase in recent coverage.
With all that in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that vaping in schools has become a hot topic in local School Board races this year. Candidates were asked how they would address the issue during literally every single forum I’ve been to this year that involved school board candidates.
Perhaps the best answer on the questions has come from Megan McLaughlin during a League of Women Voters forum held in Fairfax County’s Braddock District. The current school board member, who was endorsed by the Democratic Party, said schools need to focus on diversion programs, not just punishment, for those caught vaping or using other addictive substances.
While a lot of candidates from both parties have been using vague generalities to say they support reducing the number of students who are vaping, McLaughlin taps into something that studies show is needed. As the Wall Street Journal reports, for instance, studies show the number of teenagers who are vaping are on the rise despite the growing concern over health consequences.
For the last several years, teachers and principals around the country have seen the rates of e-cigarette use soar among their students. They’ve caught kids vaping in school bathrooms, in their cars, and in their classrooms. And they’ve been waging a lonely—and often futile—battle to stop it. They’ve suspended kids for using e-cigarettes, torn the outside doors off bathrooms to make stealth vaping harder and warned about the health risks at student assemblies.
And still the number of kids vaping has kept rising: 27.5% of high school students used e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, according to preliminary data from the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey released last month. That is up from 20.8% in 2018.
In other words, relying on punishment simply hasn’t been working and there needs to be a more assertive effort to educate students about the harms of vaping and provide them with the skills needed to overcome their addiction. Focusing in on punishment has only resulted in the number of students vaping increasing over time.
In some school districts, there are alcohol and drug counselors who come to work with students. They not only help the students who have been caught vaping or using other substances, but they can help identify students who might be at risk of developing an addiction. This is simply one way to focus on diversion rather than punishment.
It should be noted that the Fairfax County court system already uses diversion programs for first time offenders charged with possession of marijuana. Through doing a treatment program of sorts and completing community service hours, people can avoid having a conviction on their record.
The goal of these efforts is to obviously help people overcome their addiction instead of simply sending them into an already overburdened criminal justice system. It’s a win win situation as the program saves the county money in the long run and the process helps those who are utilizing it.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if more school board members express this type of focus on the vaping issue. McLaughlin’s answer also illustrates the importance of school board members sitting down to actually make decisions on the tough issues. After all, there will need to be a discussion on how to implement diversion programs in the schools. To get this done, however, we’ll need to see an end to school board members who blatantly lie during forums or have such a poor understanding of the facts that they launch attacks instead of discussing real solutions.