Vaping among teens has been called an epidemic by the US Surgeon General. Lincoln Academy’s new policies respond with education rather than just punishment.
E-cigarette use among teens has skyrocketed nationwide over the last two years. In December of 2018 US Surgeon General Jerome Adams declared it an “epidemic” and the 2018 Monitoring the Future study funded by the National Institute of Health found the 2017-18 e-cigarette use increase to be the “largest ever single-year increase in the use of a substance.”
In response to the epidemic in teen e-cigarette use, also known as vaping, high schools have scrambled to keep policies current with student habits.
Lincoln Academy has made several policy changes in 2019 to address the use of e-cigarettes in school. The new policy has shifted from a punishment model to one focused on education, according to LA Dean of Students and Director of Resident Life Jake Abbott. After their first vaping violation, students are now assigned a “learning detention” where they research the health effects and risks of vaping as well as the truth behind deceptive e-cigarette marketing. After their research is complete, students write a letter about what they have learned to a parent, a teacher, or a local newspaper.
“The focus of this work is to educate and spread information to both the student and the broader community,” said Abbott. “So far students have taken this research to heart… the policy seems to make a difference in how students feel about vaping.”
One student wrote in an essay written during detention, “Learning about the propensity toward addiction that Juuling [Juul is a popular brand of e-cigarettes marketed to teens] and other vaping products bring to the table has completely and utterly disgusted me. I have no desire to consume any products similar to Juul ever again. Knowing the amount of people, minors included, that have become addicted to nicotine is terrifying, especially since a recent census has shown that ‘10.7 million youth aged 12-17 are at risk for using e-cigarettes.’”
Another essay reads, “going forward, I plan to completely cut vaping out of my life. Not only will I stop doing it myself, but I will also try to educate my friends on the dangers of Juul and other vaping products. I never want to vape again. These reports have driven me into utter hatred for the companies behind the propaganda and brainwash of young children and teens.”
A third student wrote, “I do not want to cause myself health problems later in life that are easily avoidable. I do not want to lose the respect of adults and my peers for such an idiotic move. I think when I really put my mind to something I have very strong will power, and I think the combination of knowing I want to quit, and avoiding associating with people I know use nicotine can help me quit. I do not want to be a slave to nicotines grasp any longer and I am ready to quit.”
“The vaping epidemic took us by surprise,” said Abbott. “The adults didn’t have enough information, and the products are marketed directly to young people. They came on the market as smoking cessation devices, but instead of helping people quit smoking, they caused students who previously didn’t smoke cigarettes to get addicted. Often when students start using these devices they believe they contain only flavoring, but most e-cigarettes actually contain high doses of nicotine–one of the most addictive substances we know of.
“We hope our new policy will not just punish a behavior, but help students stop and think about the harm that vaping causes to themselves and others. This restorative philosophy works well for other offenses, and we are hoping it will make a difference with vaping, too.”
“It is impossible to know with certainty whether this consequence actually deters vaping over time, but at least we know students are learning something; are educating themselves about the real consequences,” said Abbott. “We are fighting an information war: the corporations that produce these devices are telling teens they are harmless. At least our policy can help students and their parents learn the facts so they can make informed choices in the future.”