Before the rise of discrete e-cigarette devices, students had to sneak out of class and slip outside to smoke cigarettes without getting caught. Still, the pungent smell of cigarettes made smoking difficult to hide. Today, teen vaping has replaced teen smoking, and teens have moved from using nicotine in the bathroom or outdoors into their classrooms. Many vaping devices are no larger than a USB drive and some can easily be mistaken for your average writing pen. They also do not smell very strong, and when they do, it is usually a fruity or sweet aroma that can easily be mistaken for a fresh snack or perfume.
Even though many schools take extensive efforts to educate teens on the dangers of smoking and vaping, the flavorings in tobacco products and effective marketing techniques make vaping devices highly appealing to youth. According to the CDC, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth. Approximately 1 in every 20 middle school students reported using an e-cigarette product in the last 30 days in 2020.
As youth vaping continues to be a public health concern, teachers are sounding the alarm, explaining that teen vaping is impacting their ability to educate students as well as the school culture. Let’s take a look at how the youth vaping epidemic is affecting teachers, the classroom, and schools as a whole.
Increased Distractions in the Classroom
In October 2019, the Truth Initiative conducted an online discussion with teachers to understand how youth vaping is affecting their workplace and the students’ academics. One of their concerns was the increase in distractions caused by vaping.
Vaping, particularly in class, can be very disruptive. Students may be seen sharing their vapes with their friends, trying their friend’s vapes to try new flavors, and even vaping as if it is second nature just like breathing or blinking. Students may exhale the vapor, attracting even more attention from their classmates. Other students may be seen leaving for the bathroom frequently to vape or to refill their vape cartridges. All of these small distractions can add up and significantly affect students’ attention spans, focus, and self-control.
Students are not the only ones impacted by these distractions, either. Teachers face the brunt of the classroom vaping crisis, as they are tasked with looking out for and stopping vaping in their classrooms. In addition to the load of other responsibilities that teachers have, this is one distraction that is simply not needed.
Teachers Feel Powerless Over Ineffective School Vaping Policies
According to the Truth Initiative, half of the teachers surveyed felt as though their school vaping policies were ineffective. Some of the reasons for this include difficulties in detecting vaping, lack of prioritization of the issue, limited resources in tackling the issue, and a lack of parental support.
Many schools simply added vaping to their existing policies surrounding smoking or drinking, but this has proved ineffective. Vaping occurs where smoking and drinking does not – it happens right in the classroom.
In the end, it is left up to the teachers to monitor students, confiscate devices, and, oftentimes, dictate the consequences in their own classrooms. Rather than focusing on what teachers are supposed to focus on – educating youth – they are having to step in and enforce the failing school policies.
Decreased Trust Between Staff and Students Affects School-Wide Culture
Since school policies are often ineffective at preventing vaping, students are still sneaking around and using their e-cigarettes in secret. This can lead to a lack of trust between students and staff. When there is not trust within student-teacher relationships, other larger issues can go undetected, such as trouble in the home or abuse.
Another way vaping in the classroom affects school-wide culture is due to peer pressure. Whether you step into a middle school or high school, it is hard to find many students, who have not tried an e-cigarette at least once. And, due to difficulties with detecting these discrete devices, it can be easy for teens to get away with and impossible for their peers to escape.
Vaping and its Effect on Academic Performance
The Truth Initiative discovered that nearly 33% of teachers thought vaping affected their students’ academic performance. Teachers reported noticing both nicotine dependence or addiction and other behavioral changes. For example, some students, who were vaping sometimes, seemed unconcerned with late assignments and were more likely to associate with negative influences, which ultimately affected their academic performance.
Aside from academic performance, more than two-thirds of teachers said that teen vaping impacted school events, and more than one-third said it impacted activities, clubs, or sports teams.
Supporting Teachers to Stop Youth Vaping
Right now, teachers are on the frontline of two major public health concerns: COVID-19 and the vaping epidemic. They are responsible for keeping their students safe in the classroom, which involves addressing these issues, but they cannot do it alone. Teachers need support from school faculty, resources from the state, as well as parental involvement to help prevent and stop teen vaping.