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Schools, police continue battle against teen nicotine use

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | May 23, 2023 7:00 AM

Although illegal, nearly one-third of America's youth have used a "vape" and local officials reaffirm the consequences of using these products in schools. One official stated that cracking down on use in schools has decreased use.

At the May 1 Libby City Council Meeting, Sgt. Rob Buckner, while giving the police report, noted that the department has recently handled multiple reports of youth vaping in local schools.

Libby High School was not immediately available to comment. Still, Libby Police Chief Cody Ercranbrack said he recently met with a student at Risk Council and Libby High School Vice Principal Jack Mehn.

"Mehn stated that since they were so aggressive with citing students this year, there has been a noticeable decrease in reports from the Libby High School, which is definitely in the right direction!" Ercranback wrote in a recent email.

In an April 28, 2023 report, the CDC found that overall, 36.2% of high school students had used what many youths refer to as a "vape" or what the CDC calls an electronic vaping product (EVP,) in 2021, with 18.0% of students currently using an EVP in 2021.

"EVP use among U.S. high school students remains a public health concern. During 2015–2021, no linear decrease was observed in current EVP use among high school students overall," the study said.

EVPs deliver nicotine through vapor and can often be quite potent and addictive. In 2019, the U.S. raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The CDC study noted a linear increase among female students who reported current EVP use and youth who said they used these products daily.

In Troy, School District Superintendent Jacob Francom said any time a student is found with anything illegal, the school reports it immediately.

"We have a school resource officer who is a member of the police force," Francom said.

Often these events can lead to what is called a "minor in possession" charge, Francom said.

"Any time we find a vape, or tobacco or chew (it is reported.) Cigarettes, we just don't find cigarettes anymore," he said.

The use of these products happens in various places and the school uses health classes and assemblies to educate students on the potential harm of tobacco products.

This spring in Troy, a presentation that focused on alcohol, vaping and marijuana was presented by John Underwood, a former Olympian and former Olympic coach, Francom said.

According to the CDC, since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most used tobacco product among U.S. youth. In an October 2022 press release, the CDC wrote that youth use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe. These products contain nicotine, which can harm the adolescent brain and increase the risk of addiction.

Modern tobacco products can be very enticing to kids, as they can be flavorful and don't stink like cigarettes, Francom said.

"I think we could safely say we've seen an increase in (vaping) and disciplinary action because of vaping," Francom said.

The school has mechanisms in place to monitor substance use. The school takes disciplinary action when a tobacco product or substance use is discovered on school property. Still, it often depends on the device found, as some vapes contain marijuana.

If students share marijuana vapes with others, punishments can be particularly harsh, Francom said. Additionally, if infractions concern marijuana, students are often enrolled in a substance abuse program.

"The district takes a pretty hard stance on that," Francom said.

"I have personally seen this many times where I have found THC-laced vapes. Every time I have seized vaping cartridges (we) tested them for various drugs and more often than not, it comes back presumptive positive for THC," Ecranbrack said.

"The Mayo Clinic released a statement regarding vaping stating that no matter the delivery system, nicotine is extremely addictive. Studies have shown time and time again that nicotine addiction is harder to quit than a heroin addiction. The Mayo Clinic states that the chemicals used to create the oil can cause "severe, sometimes irreversible damage," especially In developing bodies like teenagers!" Ecranbrack wrote in a recent email.

The stakes are high when considering the consequences as the CDC wrote that commercial tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.

Some symptoms Chief Ecranbrack noted that parents should look for to identify teen vape use include changes in emotions, trouble sleeping, scents of fruity odors on skin, breath and clothes. Other signs include strange cylinders, chargers or batteries lying around.