Nationwide surge in vape usage hits Mason, causing administrative headache

Alekya Raghavan | Staff Writer

As administrators crack down on vaping, the popular student pastime is going up in smoke.

The use of electronic cigarettes or vapes has become a regular activity for many kids at MHS. Students partake in vaping by means of inhaling vapor from vape pens, mods or JUULs. Last year, the number of school suspensions for vaping was five. This year, it is 23 and rising.

Typically, high schools have outlined provisions for tobacco use in the school’s Student Code of Conduct. Mason High School’s Code of Conduct prohibits “buying, selling, transferring, using or possessing any substance containing tobacco” at school. Being caught with any such items results in an automatic out-of-school suspension.

But with the rise of e-cigarettes, JUULs, and other vaping media, schools are entering unfamiliar territory when it comes to disciplining students. Despite this, Assistant Principal Brandon Rompies said that, for MHS, disciplining students caught for possession or use of a vape is black-and-white.

“With the possession and usage of a vape, it’s [also] an automatic out-of-school suspension,” Rompies said. “There is no gray-area there. It is illegal, per defition of Ohio law. It is a clear violation of our code of conduct. We do not want those substances in our building.”

There has been a 360 percent increase in students caught and suspended for vaping at MHS between the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 school years. Rompies said a contributing factor to this rise may be that students don’t know the health risks and are vaping for the social benefits.

“Our concern is, with the violation of school code of conduct, the well-being of the students who are doing this,” Rompies said. “I don’t know if they’re aware of all the health risks that are associated with this. It’s very much the trendy thing to do– that’s a lot of the student input we get when we ask why they would choose to do this at school.”

Health concerns have arisen from e-cigarettes as they have been found to resemble use of ordinary tobacco products. In a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, e-cigarettes triggered the same immune responses as normal cigarettes.

There is also the danger of nicotine addiction. According to the American Lung Association 68, percent of nicotine addicts began the addiction before they were 18. The National Institute for Drug Abuse has reported that 30.7 percent of e-cigarette users pick up a habit of smoking within the next six months due to the nicotine found in e-liquids.

It is for these reasons that the MHS administration is so concerned about underage and illegal vaping. The Mason Police Department, however, is less involved. Officer Nick Fantini, the high school Resource Officer, said that underage vaping is not a major concern for the Mason PD because it is does not have the same criminal implications as other substances like alcohol.

“The police don’t have much to do with underage vaping because it’s not criminalized,” Fantini said. “It’s illegal, but there’s different types of law. This is not criminalized. Our tackling it is really going to the source. We more look at it from the angle of stores selling to people under the age of 18.”

According to Rompies, although there are several ways that administration becomes aware of vaping in school, the number of students who are vaping most likely exceeds the number being caught.

“We have our safe-school tip line, which we encourage students to use,” Rompies said. “To be fair, I think students want to be able to go to the restroom and not have to walk into vape smoke. Some of that gets reported there. We are monitoring the restrooms, we are aware of some areas that have a higher frequency of usage. But, that being said, we’re not getting all the people, I would assume, that are vaping throughout the day.”

Rompies said the conversation, once a student is caught, centers around why that student made the decision to vape at school.

“Parents are usually surprised,” Rompies said. “At least, they give that [impression] to me, that they’re not aware. I believe them: most parents don’t realize that their son or daughter is vaping, let alone making the decision to vape at school. The big question for us is, why are they doing this when they know it’s an issue. Every student knows they can’t have it. That rings true throughout.”