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County educators aim to snuff out vapes

by EMILY BONSANT
Staff Writer | October 14, 2021 1:00 AM

BONNER COUNTY — At Sandpoint High School, staff now have extra duties they didn’t before vape use gained popularity among students: Checking the bathroom stalls and patrolling the parking lot.

“It is not like catching someone smoking,” said SHS Assistant Principal Derek Dickinson. “There is no ash and no buds. It is just a quick release of vapor and then a fruity smell follows.”

Vape use and e-cigarettes are something that school officials in both the West Bonner County and Lake Pend Oreille school districts are keeping an eye on. Use of the devices — and the impact they have on students — such as cardiovascular, reproductive, and immunosuppressive problems.

In past years, students would sneak a vape up their sleeves and exhale in their clothing, said SHS Principal David Miles. As staff members have caught on, he said students have switched to camouflaged devices and do other things instead.

“It is mostly girls that we see vaping,” said Miles. “We’ve had multiple girls hang out in one stall and pass the vape around.”

Due to the flavors added to vapes when the vapor is released there is a smell of the flavor. A student that used a vape may smell like cotton candy or sweet flavors that are similar to teen perfume.

Dickenson said that starting around 2015 to 2016 was when SHS officials noticed the spike in vape usage by students. He attributed this to the novelty of having flavors in what was then a non-nicotine product. He compared it to the whole fidget spinner phase with students flipping and doing “tricks'' with the vapes.

It’s not just at Sandpoint schools where vaping is a concern. At Priest River Lamanna High School Principal Matt George has called a student in his office to prove that the perfume she wore wasn’t the result of her vaping. When he tested the perfume it smelled exactly like vapor he had smelled on other students.

“In this kind of situation, I have to give the student the benefit of the doubt,” said George.

In SHS and in PRLHS, students have been known to mask the smell of vapes with matching perfumes. Girls will share a bathroom stall and pass the vape around, said Miles. When teachers smell the vapor outside of the bathroom students respond they were simply sharing a perfume.

Vapes and e-cigarettes are adaptable to the amount of nicotine they can release, but officials said the devices can be used for more than just nicotine. One PRLHS student when he tried vaping for the first time was unaware his device contained THC, the main ingredient in marijuana that makes people high.

He then had an anxiety attack and had to go to the office, said George. Students tend to only think marijuana gives you a mellow Scooby-Doo high, the principal said there are two other types of highs — bouncing off the walls or an anxiety attack.

At PRLHS administrators combat the use of vaping by creating a counter culture and teach kids to speak up and discourage others of vapes and smoking from a place of caring.

“At PRLHS we let the rumor mill warn students of the dangers of vaping as well as try to change the student culture and make vaping not cool,” said George.

After the anxiety attack, the student told school officials that he would never use it again, said George.

At PRLHS students are fighting a battle of addiction, said George. There are students who are repeat offenders when it comes to vapes. They know they are addictive and we are trying to combat that, said George.

Clark Fork High School/ Jr. High School Principal Phil Kemink has been proactive in trying to catch vaping at his school. In the past, the school purchased vape detectors and installed them in all the bathrooms. The detectors are supposed to detect when vapor is released and alert staff to where in the school the activity is happening.

“There were so many false alarms,” said Kemink. “It would even be sent off by the bathroom scents. We even tested the detectors by blowing smoke at them. Still nothing.”

Kemink has no tolerance for the use of vapes on school property.

“I’m a tyrant when it comes to this. Kids know that I will bring the police into it because I can’t stand this stuff,” said Kemink.

Kemink said that he wished government entities had gotten involved before vaping began its inroads into the nation’s youth, adding it’s unfortunate that a whole generation of high schoolers are hooked on these products. Making it more of a challenge is that the nicotine sensation course from the district went away years ago, he added.

LPOSD Superintendent Tom Albertson said the funding to school districts from the Idaho State Department of Education is not a large amount of money, but LPOSD uses the funds to partially fund additional elementary counseling services through Kaniksu Health.

Albertson went on to say that the upper elementary grades do address tobacco/vape use through counselors presenting in the classroom as well as 7th grade health class and 9th grade health class.

At CFHS/Jr High Principal Kemink has also seen students stashing paraphernalia on school property, said Keminnk. In fact, he said that’s why the boy’s bathroom no longer has a shelf, students would climb it to reach the stash in the ceiling.

School Resource Officer Chris Davis spoke on the addictiveness of vapes and e-cigarettes. A couple of hits from a vapes equals a couple of cigarettes, said Davis, they are cheap at only $30 or so and are rechargeable.

On the Juul website there are one-time use devices for as low as $9.99.

“There are so many carcinogens in vapes,” said Davis. “I knew someone whose tongue split down the middle because they had an allergic reaction to the glycerin in the vape.”

Davis has even caught kids selling vapes at local schools. He attributed this to the many places that students could buy vapes. Principal George said that PRLHS works with a nearby gas station to preventing selling to minors.

“Vapes are available at the gas station,” said George, “but I know for a fact that they won’t sell anything to minors.”

Legal ramifications of a minor with a vape have lessened over the years, possibly due to the pressure the early influx of cases had on the court, said Davis. He said if a minor is in possession of a vape it is an infraction with a fine. Unlike alcohol where by the second infraction becomes a misdemeanor. When it comes to vaping, minors can rack up infractions rather than going to a misdemeanor, said Davis.

When visiting Juul.com visitors are asked if they are 21. If the visitor clicks that they are underage it will send them to website on the dangers of smoking for youth.

If one selects that they are 21 and older, they are prompted to put in their zip code to help you with ordering online. Once this option is selected then the next time you visit the site the new warning doesn’t come up.

“It is the flavors enticing kids,” said Davis, “if it [vapes] tasted like an old rubber tire no one would use it.”

Davis said that he knows which kids are struggling with nicotine addiction. He offers gum to students that need something to chew on and have developed the habit of chewing or smoking.

Students have created a habit that will stay with them the rest of their lives. Now they have to change that habit and replace it with another one, like chewing gum, said Davis.

“It doesn’t matter what adults say, '' said David. “Little Timmy and Sally have to make the choice themselves to say ‘no’ to vaping.”

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(Courtesy photo Chris Davis)

Confiscated vape at WBCSD that was passed off as a smart watch.

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(Courtesy photo Chris Davis)

Confiscated vapes from WBCSD in all shapes and sizes. Many look familiar to electronic devices and school supplies students would have.