Hundreds of Okanagan high schoolers are being suspended for vaping | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Hundreds of Okanagan high schoolers are being suspended for vaping

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January 17, 2020 - 7:00 AM

Five years ago, the Vernon School District disciplined one pupil for vaping. Last year that number climbed above 200.

That statistic alone should tell you how popular vaping has become at area high schools, even as school districts try to crack down.

While 206 in-school suspensions may sound high according to School District 22 Vernon substance abuse prevention councillor Doug Rogers, the conversation surrounding youth and vaping is changing and positive signs are starting to be seen.

"We're being reactive and proactive at the same time because it came so quickly," Rogers said. "We want to help those kids, we can't discipline our way out of this problem."

It's much the same story around the Okanagan.

In the Central Okanagan, the amount of smoking-related suspensions have drastically increased within the last six years. During the 2017-2018 school year, 92 students were suspended although the Central Okanagan Board of Education does not distinguish between smoking and vaping, listing the two as a single category. In 2012, there were only eight students who were suspended.

Wendy Hyer, superintendent with School District No. 67 (Okanagan Skaha) in the South Okanagan, said teachers and school administrators have held educational sessions for both students and parents to discuss risks to vaping.
The number of students suspended there rose to 57 last year from 36 the year before.

Figures were not immediately available for School District 73 (Kamloops/Thompson).

National statistics show 23 per cent of secondary school-age kids have tried vaping, although finding a number of kids that vape regularly at the Vernon School District is a difficult thing.

Rogers said he saw the vaping trend begin about five years ago and quickly skyrocket from nowhere, often in the belief vaping was safe. Now he says the narrative from youth is changing.

"When you talk to kids now, the conversation is very different... as opposed to arguing about it (being safe) they realize it does have an impact, and more importantly we've had kids come forward and ask us for help to quit," he said.

Roger said this school year he's seen around 25 per cent of the cases he deals with being self-referrals. The year before that, the number was about 10 per cent.

"When you change the narrative away from 'punish, punish, punish,' to 'we're here to help,' it really helps kids make better choices," he said.

While vaping is still popular with high school-aged youth, Roger does believe the number has plateaued and the message around the dangers of vaping is starting to be heard.

"The amount of nicotine in those products... adolescent brains can get addicted far faster than adult brains," he said. "Short term, we're seeing impacts on lungs and brains, when we are talking about school it impacts concentration."

The education around vaping is also focusing on why teenagers are picking up vaping in the first place.

"In some cases, it's just interest and it's an experiment... in other cases, it's a way to deal with their anxiety and their depression and the nicotine content is so high in vapes and e-cigs they quickly become addicted," he said.

The worry is a whole new generation will become addicted to nicotine.

"That's a scary thought going forward in 10 years after we spent the last 50 years working on the tobacco situation," he said.

Fifty years ago, 70 per cent of the population smoked. Now that number sits at 17 per cent.

While strides are being made in vaping, and small signs of improvement have started to be seen Rogers says there's still a long way to go.

"We want kids to (not vape) because they know it's harmful. We understand that there is some significant short term consequences and some long term consequences and many of the long term consequences we don't even know about yet because of its such a long term thing," he said.

School District 22 Vernon is holding an information evening, Talking to Your Kids About Vaping, 7 p.m., Jan 21 at Vernon Secondary School. The presentation is free and everyone is welcome.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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