CASPER, Wyo. — With concern over student e-cigarette and tobacco use, the Natrona County School District is taking a closer look at the issue.
“All of the high schools are definitely experiencing an increase in the number of instances that we are catching,” said Natrona County High School Principal Shannon Harris at a Monday, Jan. 13 school board work session. “It is such a significant problem, we deal with it daily at the high schools.”
Harris added that some of the students who are being caught vaping are also using THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.
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In the 2017-2018 school year, 182 disciplinary incidents for possession or use of any tobacco product occurred across the district. In 2018-2019, this number jumped to 354.
“The vaping has definitely gone up,” said NCSD Executive Director of School Improvement Dr. Charlotte Gilbar.
She added that the district does not have a code to explicitly differentiate vaping infractions versus other tobacco infractions, so she said the data on infractions is “soft data.”
The NCSD Board of Trustees also discussed a “Prevention Needs Assessment” study during the work session.
The 2018 PNA study administered by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center asked students across the state in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 questions about tobacco use. The study is conducted every two years.
About 43% of Natrona students reported that they had tried vaping on at least one occasion in their lifetime. 38% of Wyoming students overall said they had done so on at least one occassion.
NCSD is seeing a rise in the number of vaping or e-cigarette infractions at the elementary, middle and high school levels in the 2019-2020 school year:
The district also breaks down the number of infractions per grade level for the middle and high school levels:
Just over 28% of Natrona students questioned in the PNA survey said they had vaped at least once in the last 30 days. About 23% of Wyoming students overall said the same.
Just over 21% of Natrona students said they thought there was no risk to people if they vape every day or nearly every day. However, 92% of Natrona students said that their parents thought it was at least “a little bit wrong” for them to vape.
About 19% of Wyoming students said that there was no risk to daily or frequent vaping. About 93% of students reported that their parents thought it would be at least “a little bit wrong” if they vaped.
“They don’t get the risk,” Harris said.
Trustee Dave Applegate asked Harris what the district could do about the problem.
“I think the best thing we can do is education,” Harris replied. “It’s really easy to vape anywhere and not get caught. I think educating students is the best thing we can do…and way before high school.”
Representatives from the Mercer Family Resource Center and the Casper-Natrona County Health Department attended the meeting as well.
“We don’t know what the severity of this is going to mean long term,” health department Executive Director Anna Kinder said. “The health department is very concerned about this.”
“I don’t know what the long term consequences are but this is something we need to start discussing.”
She said that vaping has significant impacts on the hippocampus, which is a region of the brain related to memory. Problems with mood control is associated with nicotine addiction as well, Kinder added.
Community Prevention Program Manager Hailey Rodgers says that she is involved in efforts to conduct the PNA surveys.
“Students are changing the lingo that they are using for vaping,” Rodgers said, adding that this could mean that the survey doesn’t exactly capture the number of students who are vaping.
Whitney Lamb is the Natrona County Prevention Coalition Chair and Prevention Education Specialist and works with Mercer.
“We provide prevention and early intervention classes,” she said.
One activity in such classes that students are asked to do is write a letter to a family member explaining why they use tobacco or vaping products.
“We’ve increased our classes from eight students to 12,” she added, noting that they’ve also increased the number of sessions to twice a month.
Lamb said she’s also open to working more closely with the school district.
“We have two facilitators and we can always train more,” she said.
Offering new vaping specific prevention classes is another thing Mercer is considering.
NCSD Trustee Debbie McCullar said that she was concerned that more of the public didn’t attend the work session since the school district has been advertising the meeting.
She asked what the school district could do to get the community more involved in addressing the issue.
Kinder said she thought it would be difficult to address the issue at the parent-level.
“I don’t think the public recognizes the issue as a problem,” she added.
Lamb suggested that the term e-cigarrettes should be used rather than the term vaping. That’s something she says the American Cancer Society is pushing for because the dangers associated with use may not seem as apparent when the term “vaping” is used.
“I don’t understand what the long term effects of vaping are,” Trustee Kevin Christopherson said.
Kinder said that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and “a lot of lung injury is what we are seeing.”
But she added that long term effects aren’t completely clear.
“That is the million dollar question because we don’t know what the severity is,” Kinder said. “It hasn’t been around long enough to really know.”