Mission school principals voiced their concerns about a growing problem with student vaping in a meeting with the district last week. Mission District 75 Superintendent Angus Wilson issued a memo to parents on Wednesday (Nov. 23) outlining the issues the schools face.
“It’s sort of sad, because in my time as a principal, we watched cigarette smoking kind of fade away. There are still kids that smoke cigarettes but vaping has come along and filled that vacuum,” Wilson said in an interview.
According to a study done by the McCreary Centre Society in 2020, 27 per cent of students in grades seven to 12 in British Columbia had vaped.
“It’s a province-wide concern but also a worldwide concern,” said BC Lung Foundation’s Vice President of Health Programs and Initiatives Dr. Menn Biagtan. “There is a very rapid increase in the number of high school students vaping.”
Nicotine vapes are more potent than cigarettes and contain other harmful chemicals as well. Wilson says students leaving classes to vape is impacting their capacity to learn and focus.
“We have some students that can’t go an hour without vaping,” Wilson said.
“One of the the most important health effects of nicotine is addiction and physical dependence.,” Biagtan said. “We are worried that there will be more kids vaping because they think it is a less harmful alternative to smoking, but the reality is, it’s not really less harmful.”
Dr. Biagtan says the long-term effects of both nicotine and cannabis vapes on the physical and mental health of youth remains unknown because studies are still being completed. However, there is enough information to know that vaping can negatively impact respiratory and neural health.
“Nicotine can affect the developing brain. Normally, our brain develops until about 25 years of age and introduction of nicotine before that age can impair parts of the brain responsible for memory, concentration and control of behavior,” she said.
Wilson says students congregating in the bathroom to vape disrupts and intimidates their peers who legitimately need to use the bathroom. He says vaping is more difficult to police in schools than cigarettes because e-cigarettes are easily concealed and lack a distinct odor.
“It’s the impact on learning and on the school climate that we’re really concerned about and want to try and address,” Wilson says. “We still have things like suspensions for students that vape but that’s not really the solution to prevent vaping.”
“There’s no silver bullet. The problem is by the time [you’re in high school], I can’t just go up ask someone not be addicted anymore. It doesn’t work like that. So a lot of the education has to be directed at the upper-elementary and middle school age group.”
To combat the problem, the school district plans to collaborate with Fraser Health and other local organizations to educate students about the risks of vaping. Schools already display posters of the uglier consequences of smoking, but Wilson says the school board is searching for more long-term solutions to the problem.
“Educating our youth about the harmful effects of vaping should be a priority for our education system — especially at high school level,”Biagtan says. “There should also be more regulations in place to increase the age by which people can access tobacco or vaping products. BC Lung is proposing age 21 instead of 19.”
The BC Lung Foundation has an online vaping prevention toolkit to for parents, students, and teachers at bclung.ca/how-we-can-help/vaping/vaping-prevention-toolkit.