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Up in smoke: Vaping rates rise among teens

Administration at St. Martin’s Episcopal School has recently discovered its newest problem among their students: vaping. Upper school students are vaping on campus, according to Head of Upper School Kevin Weatherill.

“I have been vaping since I was 15,” said Senior Grayson Doyle.

According to a Halo survey among the upper school students, 32.4% of students have vaped at least one time, while 18% of students have vaped on campus at least once.

“(Vaping) got to me from a number of sources,” Weatherill said. “Students, parents, and faculty members were concerned as well, and then just reading about it more nationally. It’s also a topic I think other schools are talking about; it’s not just a St. Martin’s topic. There’s a lot of communication between schools about how they handle this topic.”

Weatherill takes on a teaching philosophy when it comes to handling a student caught vaping on campus. He hopes that he could help change a student’s perspective on vaping, not just punish them.

“I would first bring them in and talk to them,” Weatherill said. “Obviously if they were caught in the act, there would be no need to badger them over what is very clearly obvious. I think the first question is, ‘Why are you doing that?’ It’s most important to handle it from a position of care. Then you go from there—you listen to their answer and be supportive. When you give someone consequences, what you’re trying to do is help them. The last thing you get to are the consequences, but my hope would be that anybody who was caught on campus would understand there are going to be consequences, so jumping straight to that is I think jumping to the obvious and prioritizing the consequence over the care.”

Even though the administration knows how they would handle a student who vaped on campus, they will not be starting an active investigation or hunting down students vaping on campus. Weatherill believes the primary purpose of a school is to educate students, not investigate their bad habits.

“Our first day back from the holiday, we had a faculty meeting in the morning, and I approached the topic with (the faculty) and said that I would be addressing the students on this matter, but that no, we are not interested in investigating this,” Weatherill said. “If it comes to our attention, yes, we’ll deal with it, but I think we also need to be honest about the primary function of school, which is teaching and learning. It’s not that we don’t care; it means that we have to be particular about where we spend our energy.”

Many high school students vape for the flavor, as 85% of e-cigarette users aged 12-17 use flavors such as menthol, alcohol, candy, or fruit, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“There’s this flavor called nude melon, and it’s like a refreshing, fruity flavor,” said Senior Margot Scott. “I love it because it makes me feel really relaxed.”

Conversations about vaping between parents and their children are essential, according to Weatherill.

“My plan is to send the parents a letter saying that we are aware of it, passing along resources that I have to make them aware of the dangers of vaping,” Weatherill said. “Some of those resources have ways that students are vaping. Probably the thing that has the most attention is the JUUL, which fits in the palm of the hand. (Parents should) have a conversation at home about it.”

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