For high school senior Kayla Cashion, the vaping phenomenon hits close to home.
“My parents both had smoking addictions,” Cashion said. “My mom quit and she was successful, but my dad is still in the process, so I take nicotine addiction a little more personally than some other students probably would.”
Cashion said vaping is “the trendy thing to do right now.”
“You go to parties, and people are doing vape tricks, Cashion said. “Instead of kids passing around weed or alcohol, they’re passing around their Juuls or vape pens…. It’s not just the kids you’d expect either, like the stereotypical ‘stoners’ or ‘druggies.’ In reality, it could be anyone.”
Using an e-cig is sometimes called “Juuling,” a term derived from Juul, a popular brand of e-cig devices that was introduced commercially in 2015. Due to its size and resemblance to USB drives, Juul is popular in school environments – everywhere from stairwells to bathrooms.
“If a student has a sweatshirt and can pull it down and hide the pen there, and then expel the vape into their sleeve, then the teacher never sees it,” Cashion said.
Consequences for using or selling e-cig products on school campuses can range from detention to out-of-school suspension.
However, in the Francis Howell School District, those consequences are directly linked to a student’s Missouri State High School Activities Association [MSHSAA] involvement, of which 75 percent of Francis Howell High students partake in through various school activities and athletics.
“There’s a bylaw that says you’re not allowed to use any mood-altering substances, so students who are found using vape products could be at risk of losing some or all of their athletic, academic [or] MSHSAA-sponsored activities,” Jon Schultz, assistant principal of Francis Howell High, said. “That’s been really positive.”
According to Schultz, Francis Howell has seen a drop in reported instances of students vaping on school property after reaching a high during the 2017-2018 school year.
“They’re still prevalent and we’re still seeing students using them at our schools, but it’s a significant decline,” Schultz said.
According to Schultz, the decline can be attributed to a variety of factors. In addition to sending out a quarterly information packet to parents, students are shown vaping-centered educational videos to raise awareness regarding nicotine addiction and the lack of product regulation from brand to brand.
“When you stop receiving any benefit from using your vape product, then you know you’re addicted,” Schultz said. “We want to really educate students on that.”
While its illegal to sell vaping products to individuals younger than 18 in St. Charles County, Cashion said getting e-cigarettes is easier than parents might think.
“A lot of high school seniors look older than they really are, and some have fake IDs, so they can just walk into these gas stations or wherever and buy them,” Cashion said. Some students also may sell legally obtained products to other students either in-person or via social media. And students can buy refilled vape pods online or from countries like China, which may have looser regulations.
“It’s just a devastating trend,” Cashion said.