Amid national public health concerns, a sharp uptick in teenage vaping — the act of inhaling aerosolized oils from an electronic device — is concerning Cabrillo Unified School District officials. 

Earlier this month, district administrators issued a letter to the school community about the rapid spread of electronic vaping devices, also known as e-cigarettes, particularly among teens. 

“As a caring community and school, we are very concerned with the rapid rise in the use of electronic devices used to ‘vape’ primarily nicotine products, but occasionally marijuana, as well, by students,” school officials wrote. “This is a national phenomenon that has greatly impacted all middle and high schools in our country and we take this unhealthy activity very seriously.” 

In recent years, the rate of teenage vaping has soared dramatically. According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.6 million middle and high school students reported that they vaped regularly in 2018. Last November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a series of restrictions to curb the ballooning public health epidemic, but stopped short of an outright ban on flavored e-cigarettes. 

The FDA has continued to criticize the e-cigarette industry for marketing its products to teens with vibrant packaging and kid-friendly flavors. 

In the letter to parents and families, Cabrillo Unified School District officials also touched on the seductive marketing behind electronic vaping devices. 

“It is very frustrating that just as we reduced teen use of tobacco to an extremely small segment, these products have been developed and marketed to young people,” the letter states. 

Compounding the problem, said Mike Andrews, interim principal at Cunha Intermediate School, is the fact that not all e-cigarettes have a strong odor or emit a cloud of vapor that can tip off parents and teachers. Many vaping devices are also designed for discretion, looking more like USB flash drives or key fobs than ordinary cigarettes. 

“They’re unlike a cigarette or a joint, where the odor is there, so right away you know something is going on,” said Andrews. “It’s a little bit different. Part of (the appeal) for the kids is the covert act itself. How can I get away with this so nobody knows?” 

James Barnes, assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at Half Moon Bay High School, has heard reports from both students and faculty of students vaping during class.

“People are able to do it,” he said. “But we’re not running some kind of total surveillance police state here. And we’re not going to. So (the solution) is really going to rest, more and more, on education.” 

The district has already launched several efforts to address the crisis. At Half Moon Bay High School, all freshman students will receive new information about the potential impacts of vaping. In addition, the school’s health and wellness committee is organizing a series of events to educate the community on the dangers the devices pose. 

At Pilarcitos High School, students are required to take a 10-week substance abuse prevention course that includes a continuous focus on vaping throughout. 

“It hasn’t been a huge issue on site,” said Raj Bechar, principal at Pilarcitos. “We had one incident with students using it on campus, that we know of, but we’ve just been hearing more and more about it in the community.

“And you see it, offsite, whether it’s on the weekends or students in their cars or walking down the street,” he added. “It’s something I’m noticing more and more.”

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