TheArizona Department of Health Services this week announced three cases of respiratory illness linked to vaping, adding to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dubs an epidemic. According to the CDC, more than 30 states have reported at least 530 cases and seven deaths. Of those cases, 16% of the illnesses are attributed to people 18 and under. Health officials are sounding alarms about the rise in vaping among teens. Arizona 360 and Lorraine Rivera visited Marana High School to see how it is tackling the issue head on.
Vaping on campus has become a bigger issue over the last few years, according to Marana High Principal David Mandel. Marana Unified School District, a district with more than 12,000 students, disciplined 169 students for vaping during the 2018-19 school year. Since early August, when the new school year began, 32 students have been disciplined across the district. Marana High confiscates vaping devices. If the devices are suspected to contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, they're turned over to a school resource officer.
“Oftentimes when students are confronted after we suspect use, they’ll provide them to us,” Mandel said. The school will briefly suspend the student. When a student returns, Mandel said administrators try to understand their reasons for vaping and educate them about the risks. Students also meet with a drug prevention coach, a position that receives funding through a state grant.
“Sometimes there are underlying mental health issues that the student is using this to self-medicate for,” Mandel said. “Our first avenue is: ‘What help do you need? And let’s talk about that.’”
Mandel says vaping trends at the school likely mirror what’s happening on a wider scale. More than half of all high school students in the state have tried vaping, according to ADHS. Nationwide, the CDC reported e-cigarette use among teens increased from 11% to 20% between 2017 and 2018.
In Ali Pierce’s classroom, the English teacher said she has noticed behavioral changes in students who vape. “I have absolutely had students who have been on edge. They’ve been really grumpy or moody,” Pierce said. “Every once in a while a kid will tell me, ‘I quit vaping,’ or ‘I’m not vaping anymore,’ and they’re going through nicotine withdrawal.”
Mandel views Marana High as a fixture in the community. He says many of its graduates continue to live there and eventually send their children to the district. He believes parents play a key role in preventing students from vaping or abusing other substances.
“I hope that parents continue to be our partner in this,” Mandel said. “Our goal is high school graduation. The things that get in the way of that and create an unsafe environment ... I want to see all those go away.”