Editorial: Not enough buzz over school vaping

Vaping appears to have replaced cigarettes as the primary nicotine delivery device for teens.

Vaping appears to have replaced cigarettes as the primary nicotine delivery device for teens.

Students often get away with vaping in school because it is odorless.

They can hide it up their sleeve in the classroom, or use devices that double as thumb drives or pens.

As far as many adults are concerned, meanwhile, the marketing of vaping to youths may as well be invisible.

Let’s face it, vaping doesn’t have the baggage of the taboo habits of previous generations. The use of battery-powered e-cigarettes to heat liquid nicotine so it can be inhaled not only lacks the messiness of ashes and carcinogenic smoke, but comes in assorted flavors and with a cool name.

Big Tobacco faced marketing challenges of its own when it was banned from network television, eventually stooping to such lows as the infamous “Joe Camel” cartoon ad. But vaping thrives in this stealth era of viral marketing. Try Googling “vape marketing strategies” and you’ll encounter ideas that will leave the bitter aftertaste of a three-pack-a-day habit.

The adults are still playing catchup with the challenges of e-cigarettes a decade after they hit the U.S. market. Yes, they helped many people kick the tobacco habit. But they can also be starter kits for kids, affecting brain development and leading to traditional tobacco products and cardiovascular disease.

The State Department of Health points to a startling success story in the battle against cigarette use among high school students, from more than 25 percent at the turn of the century to 5.6 percent in 2015.

The parallel figures regarding e-cigarettes are less encouraging, from 24 percent in 2011 to 7.2 percent in 2015. It was around that time that federal regulators required buyers to be over 18 and to provide photo identification. Teens quickly thwarted that by making online purchases, simultaneously generating their own secondary market opportunities.

High schools are on the front lines of educating youths about the drawbacks of vaping. It was just three years ago that New Canaan High School Principal Bill Egan caught a student vaping for the first time. At approximately the same moment, Egan realized his school lacked a vaping policy.

So school officials there created one that mirrors rules regarding tobacco use. Devices are now confiscated and guilty students are suspended for five days and educated about what they are putting into their bodies.

Federal, state, school and family policies are still trying to catch up with the growing trend. A University of Michigan researcher who leads an annual study expressed surprise that 10 percent of high school seniors surveyed said they vaped marijuana at least once in the last year.

Thomas McMorran, superintendent for Redding and Easton schools, said last summer that “In the case of vaping ... I do think parents should be highly concerned and even alarmed.”

There are progressive efforts in some Connecticut school systems about educating students regarding vaping, leading some middle school students to learn more about the potential for cardiovascular damage than their parents.

Our schools need to have consistent policies, but they can’t be expected to tackle this alone. This conversation needs to become addictive.