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Area schools combat vaping

Solon hosts informational session for parents
Vaping devices, Juul pods and vaping juices confiscated from Solon High School students were displayed during a presentation on vaping and e-cigarette use Sunday, May 5, at the Solon High School. Solon, like high schools across the state and nation, has seen an increase in use of the nicotine-infused products among the student body. (photos by Chris Umscheid)

SOLON– It looked like a typical teenager’s bedroom: a pile of clothes on the floor, stuff on the bed, an array of items on the nightstand and on the desk. As concerned parents surveyed the scene, with guidance from Prelude staff, it quickly became apparent there was contraband hidden in plain sight.
The room was set up as part of a presentation on the epidemic of underage vaping held Sunday, May 5, at Solon High School. Vaping is the inhaling of vapor produced by a vaporizer or electronic (battery-powered) cigarette as it heats up an e-liquid, concentrate or even a dry herb. Vaping has been promoted as an alternative to cigarettes, and increasingly, high school and even middle school students are being caught using the devices which contain nicotine.
A lot of nicotine.
Susan Vileta, a health educator with the Johnson County Public Health Department, said a typical pod has the nicotine equivalence of 20 cigarettes (one pack). If that wasn’t alarming enough, pods are also available containing a high concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects.
Vileta spoke to a small crowd about what some are calling an epidemic. She noted this is the word of choice by Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, MD, the United States Surgeon General.
“But, when rates (of usage) go up 78 percent in one year (2017 to 2018) among high-schoolers, and use among middle-schoolers went up 45 percent, that’s huge,” she said. The numbers come from self-reporting surveys, Vileta said. One might think that even on an anonymous survey, the kids would just mark “no.”
“That’s what everybody thinks about the survey,” Vileta said. “They lie or this or that, but it’s the way we’ve been looking at those numbers for quite some time.”
Vileta is sounding the alarm and declaring war on vaping.
“We’ve done our work in the tobacco realm (discouraging use, banning smoking almost everywhere and making underage use much more difficult). Six percent of teenagers in Iowa smoke. So, they figured that out, they got the right information. Unfortunately, they don’t see vaping or the use of these electronic devices as similar, or the same thing.”
In 2014, the Johnson County Board of Health adopted a position on e-cigarettes encouraging public and private policies, including legislation, which would place the same restrictions on e-cigarettes as on traditional cigarettes.
Doug Beardsley, then the director, said at the time, “The Board (of Health) has been very interested in maintaining the gains that have been made in reducing tobacco use in Iowa.”
“The tobacco industry has not been idle,” Beardsley, Director of Johnson County Public Health, explained. “They are constantly developing and marketing new products, including e-cigarettes, to attract new young users. There is credible research and information to cause concern about e-cigarettes and the board felt they should be proactive in studying this topic and making recommendations.”
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors amended the county’s smoke free ordinance on Thursday, April 25, which prohibits the use of cigarettes, tobacco products, alternative nicotine products and vapor products on county property to include “e-cigarettes, e-cigars, e-cigarillo, electronic pipes, any cartridge or container intended to be used in an e-device,” etc. The revision also covers “alternative nicotine products,” which are chewable, absorbed, dissolved, inhaled, snorted or sniffed.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to smoke, or use any Alternative Nicotine Product or Vapor Product within 25 feet of the entrance to any public places where smoking is not allowed,” the ordinance states, with a $100 fine for a first offense and $200 for each repeat offense. Violations are simple misdemeanors.
“What’s great is, they’ve been ahead of the game in passing those policies. The hard part is making sure everybody understands those policies. It took a while with the traditional cigarettes for people to go, ‘Oh. I can’t do that here,’” Vileta said.
The addiction is strong, she added, “And it’ll lead you to pulling out that device when your body is thinking that you need it.”
Some devices are compact enough and easy enough to conceal, some kids will even take a hit in the classroom and on busses, as well as the traditional setting of the restrooms, parking lots and other places in the buildings.
“It’s illegal for them to be using, so the school has to use its progressive discipline plan to do the right thing, but it’s putting them in a tough spot as well,” Vileta said. Representatives from Solon, Clear Creek Amana and the Iowa City Community School District were asked about the prevalence of vaping in their high schools and the disciplinary process and procedures employed.

Jake Munson, interim principal for Solon High School, said he thinks Solon is in line with what lot of other high schools are seeing.
“I think it’s a concern statewide, nationally, as well as locally,” he said. “We’re just trying to get out ahead of it as best we can.”
Munson said the trend at Solon has mirrored state and national figures with between five and 10 students caught during the current school year.
“We get reports of it happening more frequently than that,” he said. “Just like any generation of kids, there are kids that are sneaky, that we’re not catching. We do our best, but for us, catching kids is about having a deterrent to help those kids. That’s what we’re going to focus on. When we’re trying to catch kids, it’s not to get them in trouble or to take away activities, we’re trying to do it to help them in the long term.”
Solon faculty and staff make rounds of the building and receive tips from members of the student body who are also taking action against vaping.
“They’ll communicate with us as to where and when they’re seeing spikes in this,” Munson said. “We try to be in the parking lots in the mornings and after school. We try to be in the bathrooms during passing times, and teachers will let us know if they think something suspicious is going on with kids signing out. We try to make sure everything’s on the up and up.”
If a Solon student is caught vaping, it is treated the same as any other alcohol or tobacco violation.
“We go through our Good Conduct Violations policy,” Munson said.
The first offense costs a student half of the season for their sport or activity, as well as two three-hour Saturday detentions. A second offense escalates to a three-day suspension, plus a full season of inactivity. A third offense brings a recommendation for expulsion and a full year of no activities.
Munson said the sheriff’s office has not been called for vaping offenses, and likely would not be called in unless it was determined marijuana was involved.
“Anytime, as a school district, we feel like somebody is under the influence of marijuana or alcohol, we will contact law enforcement and have them come in and investigate,” he noted.

Clear Creek Amana
Laurie Haman, the district’s communications director, said “The national rising statistics of vaping for minors is a problem and CCA has seen an increase in vaping as well.”
She noted it seems to go in cycles at CCA without any cases for several weeks.
“And then we might catch three students in one day,” she observed.
The consequences can be harsh for the offenders.
“It is illegal for minors to vape so we have moved to calling law enforcement and the students are getting cited for possession of tobacco products and must pay the fines,” Haman said. “The students are given a suspension (one day out-of-school for first offense) and must follow any consequences as stated for Good Conduct violations. Tobacco products are a Category I (offense) with a penalty of three weeks or 30 percent of the competitions/performances in that season, whichever is less.”
According to the district’s High School Parent/Student Handbook, smoking, chewing, possession of tobacco, use or possession of alcohol, and possession of drug paraphernalia earns the offender a one-day out of school suspension. A second offense gets them three days suspension and a third offense brings a recommendation for expulsion.
The Handbook also states: “The Clear Creek Amana High School recognizes the problem of alcohol and drug use/abuse among students attending our school. The school has a responsibility to help and counsel students who either by compulsion or curiosity make the mistake of involvement with alcohol and drugs, but an equal responsibility for strict discipline of those who are offenders and/or distributors of illegal substances.”
Haman agreed the restrooms do seem to be popular spots, but pointed out Principal Mark Moody and Assistant Principal Mike Potter have encouraged teachers to be more aware during the times in-between classes and to go by the restrooms more often.
“With the increasing level of use, more education about this topic has been integrated into the health curriculum for CCA students over the past few years,” she noted.

Liberty High/Iowa City Community School District
ICCSD and Liberty High administrators were contacted for this article, but had not responded at the time of composition.
“Use, possession, and/or transmission of tobacco or imitation substances” is listed in Liberty’s Student Handbook under Impermissible Conduct and Consequences.
“School personnel utilize administrative discretion to determine precisely what sanction should be imposed for each infraction. Every effort is made to relate the consequence or sanctions as directly as possible to the student’s behavior. The intent is to change future behavior and to address the factors contributing to the student’s actions,” the handbook states.
“Possessing, distributing, using, or being under the influence of illegal drugs on school property or at school sponsored or approved events off the school grounds at any time, including official school events at other schools” is a serious violation of the school’s disciplinary policy, according to the handbook.
“The penalty for such violations may include suspension or expulsion. Participation in activities, including practices, shall also be prohibited during any period of suspension or expulsion. A student suspended or expelled under this policy will be allowed to return to classes upon completion of the suspension/expulsion period and enrollment in a program of substance abuse evaluation with an agency approved by the district. It shall be the responsibility of the student/and or guardian to enroll in the program of substance abuse evaluation.
“School officials will also notify law enforcement when a student is suspected of possessing, using, distributing or selling any illegal controlled substance on school property or at school sponsored or approved events off the school grounds at any time, including official school events at other schools.”
Detective Sergeant Brad Kunkel, with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, said Iowa Code calls for a citation and a $50 civil penalty and community service for a minor in possession.
“The greater penalty goes to whoever supplies it, whether it’s a business or a person. The retailers have a much greater incentive to be compliant with the law, because even a first offense for a business is a $300 civil penalty, the employee gets a citation also, but if they get repeat offenses, they can look at larger fines or even a 30-day suspension of their tobacco license.” Kunkel said.
In the case of a gas station, such a suspension would have a huge impact on their revenue, he said.
Prosecuting the seller can be difficult as vaping products can be purchased online, or an adult will purchase the products and then sell them to interested juveniles.
“It’s a challenge, especially for the schools to keep up with, because it’s pretty pervasive,” Kunkel said. “High schools everywhere are dealing with it. Twenty years ago, it was alcohol and smoking. And now the big problem is vaping.”
Law enforcement’s primary role, Kunkel added, is partnering with parents, educating them about what to watch for.
“A problem we’ll run into is e-cigs and vapes that are using THC,” he said. “But if it’s infused with strawberry, or bubblegum, that’s what you’re going to smell. So, a parent might not even take notice unless they see signs of impairment.”
It comes down to asking parents to be vigilant and to talk to their kids about it, he added. “Check their backpacks and cars and all that stuff, too,” he said. “That’s about all we can ask for. It’s not like cigarette smoke where we can walk up to a car and smell it. This is just a lot harder to enforce, so we need parents to really help out.”
During her presentation Vileta reviewed the health risks, beyond the high nicotine concentration and likelihood of addiction. The vapor produced, often advertised as harmless water vapor, contains chemicals and metals including propylene glycol, cadmium, nickel, lead, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and toluene. She pointed out the risks to bystanders as being on par with second-hand smoke from tobacco products.
“There is no evidence so far that inhaling this, or being around it as a non-user, is safe,” Vileta said. “Safer doesn’t always mean safe, and safer than what? Than a product that when used correctly kills half of its customers. So, safer than what?”
E-cigarettes and vaping products are often advertised as an aid to smoking cessation. However, Vileta takes issue with the claim and pointed out they are not approved cessation devices. While some have been able to use them to wean themselves off of cigarettes, many continue to vape.
“Some have just substituted one nicotine addiction for another,” she said.
Ten years ago, tobacco prevention specialists predicted kids would be attracted to these devices and would become users.
“We were right,” Vileta said. “I hate being right sometimes, and this is one of those times.”
She noted smoking bans and prevention efforts have dropped underage smoking to only about six percent. However, as vaping rates continue to soar, “It’s like we’re going back in time, unfortunately.”
“I’m worried about the health risks,” Munson said. “But what I’m mostly worried about is the addictiveness of this product and the rates at which our kids are using it, both in the number of students that are choosing to use it and the rates of consumption.”
Twenty years ago, he said, students would smoke a few cigarettes per day.
Today, he said, kids are going through a Juul pod or two per day, with each pod equal to a pack of cigarettes. “So, we’ve got students that are consuming anywhere between 20 to 40 cigarettes worth of nicotine per day,” he said. “We’ve got kids that are facing addiction.”