Perkasie Inquirer

Pennridge Encounters Epidemic

Connor Robertson, Student Writer

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Vaping has gained popularity in recent years marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking. Critics of the new trend claim it is marketed toward children with the use of buttery, realistic flavors and flashy packaging. High schools across the country have been infected with this epidemic and are fighting the struggle of containment. Pennridge High School is no exception. The school has seen an exponential increase in students using vapes on school property specifically in the restrooms. Parents grow concerned as the possibility of their student being the next victim of vaping becomes more probable. Pennridge High School is faced with a difficult issue to solve. Students, parents, and security were all interviewed to further explore the issue.

It’s no surprise that this new fad is going on within school walls where students are thought be safe and taken care of. According to a report from the National Youth Tobacco survey, there has been an overall 900% increase in e-cigarette use by high school students from 2011 to 2015 alone. An alarming 13% of 8th graders, 24% of 10th graders, and nearly 28% of 12th graders at U.S. schools reported using a vaping device in the past year. Just as the smoking rate of high school students finally decreased to 5%, the vaping rate skyrocketed. Youth preventionists feel that vaping is regressive and all of the progress they have achieved with decreasing smoking among teenagers for the past couple of decades has been lost. This compelling evidence conveys that it is time for schools to intervene. Schools across the country are using an array of strategies to combat the issue. One controversial strategy is the closure of a majority of student restrooms thus making it harder for students to use. Some parents are outraged claiming that their child had to wait in line for 20 minutes just to get into the restroom. Another more practical strategy would be stationing security guards outside of restrooms and keeping track of who enters and exits. A more technologically advanced solution to the issue is the Enhanced Fly SenseTM Vaping Detector which is capable of detecting vapor in the air and live text messaging security and administrators when detected. This solution is costly and seen as unnecessary by most. The most feasible strategy is to simply educate students on the dangers of vaping by holding assemblies and training staff. The only fault is that there is no real way to tell if education will actually affect students’ decision making. Punishment can also be used as a deterrent, but repeat offenders have proven it to be somewhat ineffective. Regardless of the strategy implemented, something needs to be done.

Pennridge Head of Security, Mr. Branch , was interviewed to understand specifically what Pennridge High School is doing to combat the issue. Fortunately, he was able to discuss a new program that Pennridge High School started. The program’s goal is to educate on the health risks of vaping. The hope is that students take the health risks seriously and choose not to vape. When asked about vaping detectors, Branch thinks they won’t work because kids will just vape where there are no detectors. He stated, “Kids will always find a way to beat it.” He believes that education is the best solution, but that laws need to be reformed. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to buy tobacco products under the age of 18, but there is no law saying that you can’t possess them under the age of 18. If it is made illegal for minors to possess these products and legal repercussions, then vape use among students will be greatly reduced.

As the popularity of vaping continues to grow, parents grow concerned. Lori Robertson, a mother of two boys, was questioned on the issue. When asked for her opinion on vaping, she stated, “I think it is very unhealthy and that there’s going to be new findings of how bad it really is in the coming years.” She believes that Pennridge is doing a decent job at containing the problem by sending out emails educating parents and students on the health risks. To end the issue for good, she said that restrooms need to be more closely monitored by staff and security. In agreement with Mr. Branch, she also believes that education will be the most effective strategy. When asked about the parent’s role, she said, “I think parents definitely need to be stricter on vaping and not allow it.”

Obtaining a student’s perspective on the issue gives the ability to view the issue from a unique perspective. An anonymous student was questioned on the issue to better understand the root cause. The student believes that the stressful environment of school and curiosity about new things can drive students to vape. They claimed, “The nicotine found in vape juice takes the edge off by giving users a pleasant feeling.” The fact that the newest generation of vaping devices is so easy to conceal and that they look like other everyday items gives students even more reason to turn to vape. At any given time, when a student walks into the bathroom, they’re likely to see another student vaping. The student interviewed said that they did not vape because of the known and unknown health risks. This confirms that the strategy of educating students on the dangers proves effective.

Pennridge High School is not alone in searching for the cure to this epidemic. Fortunately, the school is beginning to take steps in the right direction to take better care of students. Every day when students arrive at school they become a responsibility of the school and the school must provide them with safety. A device designed as a tool to help adult’s quit smoking has quickly attracted teenagers and infiltrated schools across the country.