Kids sneaking easily concealable e-cigarettes into northern Utah schools – Standard-Examiner

Forget everything you thought you knew about cigarettes in public schools.

Huddled out behind the building, lighting up? Please. Smokin’ in the boys room? That’s so 1973. Ditching class for the parking lot and a quick cigarette? Why bother?

These days, kids aren’t just smoking at school, they’re smoking in school — and not just in the restrooms, either. They’re smoking in the halls, smoking in assemblies, smoking right there in the classroom.

Welcome to the brave new world of e-cigarettes in the schools. Think of it as “stealth smoking.”

Shauna Lund, community relations specialist with Davis School District, sympathizes with parents of students these days having to deal with this relatively new nicotine delivery system. It’s not at all like the “good” old days of burning tobacco.

Back then, “If your kid smoked cigarettes, you knew,” Lund said. “You could smell it.”

Today? Good luck.

This isn’t to say e-cigarette use is necessarily rampant in northern Utah schools. But educators and law enforcement do say it’s a growing problem. Throughout the Davis School District — and Weber, Ogden, Box Elder and Morgan districts, too — e-cigarettes pose all sorts of enforcement problems.

In Box Elder School District, it’s a relatively new issue, according to Mary Kay Kirkland, assistant superintendent over instruction. This year, they’ve had between four and six incidents involving e-cigarettes at both the high school and middle school level.

“We have had students bringing e-cigarettes to school, and we have had them confiscated in class,” Kirkland said. “E-cigarettes have been added to our safe-schools policy.”

That policy was just changed on March 12 to include e-cigarettes among the forbidden items at school. The nicotine-delivery system is just one more item added to a list of contraband at area schools.

“We know that it’s something that is out there, that we have dealt with — and are dealing with — in our schools,” Kirkland said.

Lt. Danielle Croyle oversees the resource officers within the Ogden Police Department; these officers work with the students at schools in the Ogden School District. She says her officers have been dealing with the e-cigarette problem.

“We do see it, we do have it, and it is a growing concern,” Croyle said.

‘Vaping’

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat liquid nicotine and convert it into a mist, or vapor, that is then inhaled by the user. Often, flavoring agents are added to the replaceable nicotine cartridges. Sometimes, the e-cigarettes are made to look like traditional cigarettes, but more often they resemble pens, small flashlights, or tubes of makeup — like mascara or eyeliner.

Kirkland says the e-cigarettes are so small that they are easily concealed in a pocket, or up the sleeve of a hoodie, jacket or shirt. In addition, many students keep them on lanyards around their necks, under their clothing. In class, they merely pull out the e-cigarette, take a puff, and hide it again.

And because “vaping,” as it’s called, doesn’t involve burning tobacco, this electronic habit doesn’t have the smoke or smell associated with traditional cigarettes. (Although, many cartridges include a flavoring agent, so they can give off different smells — like chocolate, or various fruits or flowers.) Therein lies the problem for schools. Today, a student could be using an e-cigarette in class, and unless the teacher actually sees the student take a puff, it would be extremely difficult to detect. 

E-cigs and hoodies

Administrators at high schools throughout northern Utah say e-cigarette use is on the rise, but it’s not just a problem in the upper grades. No one was willing to talk on the record, but at Sandridge Junior High School, teachers have seen an increase in vaping among students at the school. Sources who asked not to be identified say students are hiding e-cigarettes in the sleeves of their jackets or hoodies, then using them at various times during the day — including in the classroom.

This led to a rumor that hoodies had been banned — or were about to be banned — at Sandridge, but Weber School District spokesman Nate Taggart says that’s simply not true.

“Hoodies are still alive and well, and we do allow them at the school,” he said.

Taggart says the rumor may have come from the fact items were being stolen from backpacks, hoodies and jackets, so school officials asked students to keep their belongings in their lockers, and not leave them lying around.

“But anybody who is cold can wear a jacket (or hoodie) to class,” Taggart said.

Besides, e-cigarettes are so small, according to Kirkland, that it’s hard to catch students in the act anyway — even if they’re not wearing loose clothing like hoodies or jackets. Kirkland talked to several administrators in Box Elder County schools, and they told her they didn’t think hoodies or jackets were a problem.

“None felt baggy clothing was an issue, because e-cigarettes are so small that they can be hidden anywhere,” Kirkland said.

Hide them anywhere

Taggart acknowledges that with e-cigarettes, enforcement is more than a little problematic.

“Some kid sneaking a puff in a hoodie is not like following the smell of smoke to the bathroom,” he said. “There’s always a concern when something can go relatively undetected.”

Croyle, with OPD, agrees that it’s much more difficult for her school resource officers to catch students with e-cigarettes.

“There are always concerns where there are opportunities for concealment,” Croyle said.

And yes, students can hide them virtually anywhere.

“Kids are always creative and smart,” Croyle said. “Tell them, ‘You can’t wear a hoodie,’ they’ll hide it in their underwear.”

Taggart said Weber School District was quick to get out in front of the e-cigarette issue. He said the district banned them back when many people were asking, “Why do we even have a policy? Who’s even heard of e-cigarettes?”

“We jumped on it with a policy early,” Taggart said. “It’s something we are constantly dealing with in our schools.”

Rebecca Ellis, assistant principal at Ben Lomond High School, said e-cigarette use is relatively new at the school, but it has been increasing.

“Truthfully, I wouldn’t consider it to be a big problem right now,” she said.

Ellis said they’ve had only one or two instances of students puffing on e-cigs in the school, although school officials have confiscated a number of the devices from backpacks and the like.

“It is not … rampant,” Ellis said. “When we do find them, it’s usually when we’re searching for another substance.”

If a student is found with an e-cigarette, Ellis says they’ll have a police officer issue a tobacco citation.

“We try to send them to youth court,” she said, hoping to educate these students.

“E-cigarettes are misunderstood,” Ellis said. “Students think they’re safe.”

Hey, kids!

Croyle believes this is one of the reasons e-cigarettes are so popular in the schools — students have been led to believe they’re not as bad as the real thing.

“They think it’s a less-harmful alternative,” she said. “That’s a concern, because the perception is that it’s less harmful and more acceptable. It’s not.”

Kirkland says what bothers her most is that e-cigarettes are being heavily marketed toward children.

“Most of the flavors are things like chocolate, root beer and bubble gum, so they’re aimed at kids,” she said. “They’re not adult flavors at all.”

What’s more, the packaging is designed to attract young people, according to Kirkland.

“They come in slick boxes, like iPod boxes,” she said. “Even the look appeals to kids.”

And with e-cigarettes, there’s always the potential for other abuses, according to Chris Williams, spokesman for the Davis County School District.

“With the reservoir, kids could put alcohol or THC in it,” Williams said.

Says Croyle: “Obviously, we don’t want kids in the school district bringing in contraband of any kind. We want them to play by the rules.”

Contact reporter Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/mark.saal.

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