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Vaping Epidemic – New Challenge for Athletic Administrators

By Steve Gertz, CMAA on September 16, 2019 hst Print

Many athletic administrators have had to confront the issue of vaping – the act of inhaling vapor created by battery- powered e-cigarette devices – within their schools and athletic programs. These e-cigarettes contain pods with a variety of synthetic flavors and a mixture of other chemicals. While these products do not use tobacco, they contain varying amounts of nicotine and THG, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.

E-cigarettes recently surpassed conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product among youth. The popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers has skyrocketed in recent years. In February 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 78 percent increase in high school students vaping from 2017 to 2018. Youth e-cigarette use has been called an epidemic by major public health officials, including the United States’ surgeon general. It is essential that students, parents and educators understand what these products are and the potential risks of using the devices.

Because vaping is still relatively new, its long-term effects are largely unknown. Since nicotine consumption may have minimal impact upon athletic performance, this may be why many athletes feel comfortable smoking or vaping. Student-athletes can take advantage of nicotine’s simulation effect without jeopardizing their athletic progress or career.

There is far less research on the health effects of vaping than those of smoking cigarettes, but organizations such as the American Lung Association have gathered the results of multiple studies in one place. E-cigarette pods contain chemicals that can cause lung and cardiac disease as well as harm the developing brains of children.

The following are some practical and proactive ideas to address this serious health issue:

  • Host a “Vaping and E-Cigarette Presentation.” This session should include information on the epidemic of vaping, the health consequences of teen usage and strategies for prevention. A great time to address this is during pre-season parents and students meetings at the beginning of the school year. Athletic directors should not undertake this educational effort alone. Bring in speakers, local police, county representatives and school leaders. Make sure to include time for questions and answers. The following is a link to presentations and resources that might be valuable as a starting point for your session. Another great resource is the NFHS Learning Center online course on Understanding Vaping and e-cigarettes.
  • Review and update your school’s policy on tobacco and drug abuse. Make sure it includes language regarding vaping and that it aligns with your existing policies. It is important to have language for both since vaping is used for nicotine and THC. Listed below is an example of this policy in Community Unit School District 300. Language from CUSD 300’s Co-Curricular Code of Conduct: Prohibited activities include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • Using, attempting to use, possessing, purchasing, selling, distributing or assisting another person in the use, attempted use, possession, purchase, sale or distribution of tobacco, tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, and/or look-alike drugs or alcohol.
    • Using, attempting to use, possessing, purchasing, selling, distributing, being under the influence of or assisting another person in the use, attempted use, possession, sale of distribution of alcohol, drugs, controlled substances, other illegal mood-altering and/or performance-enhancing drugs or chemicals, or any other substance used to obtain an altered mental state or “high.”
  • Install vaping sensors in school lavatories. Vaping sensors are expensive, but they work. The cost is about $1,000 each plus software, and some schools, therefore, mount fake ones in some of the bathrooms to help to deter the use of vaping devices. These detectors send an electronic alert through cell phones once a sensor is triggered. When the alert is received, a teacher or administrator is notified with the exact location of the lavatory in which the incident is taking place. With this information, a team member is sent to check on the bathroom and hopefully catch the student who is vaping. It is also important to educate and inform students that lavatories have these devices, because the goal is to create a healthy and safe environment for all students and staff.
  • Hold students accountable when they are caught vaping. Most communities have laws regarding the purchase of tobacco products. The ordinance usually prohibits the use and possession of tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices, by anyone under age 18 or 21. If possible in your setting, have the police issue the offender a ticket. Also, work with your local communities and school resource officers and take advantage of their expertise and resources. In Park Ridge, Illinois, for example, they instituted a two-hour class through the Maine Community Youth Associated Foundation that is aimed at educating youth about the effects of vaping or paying a fine if they are caught. The city’s ordinance gives youth and their parents the choice of attending the course on vaping (at a cost of $125, according to MCYAF) or paying the $500 fine. “This initiative is ‘working well,’” Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski told the City Council.

While there may be no way to completely eliminate vaping in schools and athletic programs, its usage can possibly be reduced through the education of students and parents by installing sensors in bathrooms and updating school drug policies. These steps will potentially help students in the future and protect them from longterm harm, and this should be the goal of every school district.