NEW BETHLEHEM – In a survey conducted last year, 64.7 percent of the seniors in the Redbank Valley School District reported using an e-cigarette or vape within the past 30 days.
Redbank Valley High School principal Amy Rupp cited this statistic to explain an increase in Level 4 disciplinary violations at the high school — caused mainly by the ever-growing popularity of vaping among students.
“I was shocked when I saw [those numbers],” Rupp said, noting that just in the past month she has confiscated six vaping devices from students on school grounds. “That’s more than one per week.”
According to Rupp, vaping devices come in all shapes and sizes, and can include anything from traditional e-cigarettes and vapes to nicotine-containing Juul pods and even newer dab pens, which primarily contain liquid marijuana or THC.
“Examples of all of these devices have been confiscated at RVHS,” Rupp said, adding that students involved come from every grade and from every academic and social group. In fact, the previously mentioned survey also indicates that vaping is increasing in popularity among students of all ages. According to the survey, 10 percent of last year’s sixth-graders at Redbank Valley, as well as 14.5 percent of eighth-graders and 25.5 percent of tenth-graders reported using an e-cigarette or vape in the last 30 days.
Rupp also reported that three recent vaping incidents have involved junior high students.
“Students are becoming less discrete in vaping on school grounds,” Rupp said, explaining that students have been caught vaping on the bus, in class and in the restroom. “I’ve talked with principals from other local districts and they have the same concerns.”
Because vaping is a Level 4 disciplinary offense under the Pennsylvania School Tobacco Control Act, Rupp said that the penalties for possession can be quite severe and include confiscation of the device and any related paraphernalia — such as chargers — an automatic 10-day suspension, and a maximum $300 fine or community service imposed by the district magistrate.
In addition, Rupp said district officials are also looking to add mandatory attendance at tobacco cessation classes hosted by the Armstrong-Clarion-Indiana Drug and Alcohol Commission and suspension from extra-curricular activities for the remainder of the school year.
“Whether they contain nicotine or not, parents need to know that anything associated with these devices is illegal according to the school handbook and will be confiscated,” Rupp said, noting that the school police officers have done “a fantastic job” in helping with searches and investigations.
In an informational video circulated to parents of RVHS students, Rupp offered a list of warning signs to help parents detect vaping problems with their students.
The first tip is to be aware of the various types of vaping devices that are available. Rupp pointed out that while traditional vaping devices are easy to identify, Juuls are less conspicuous. Juul pods hide easily and can be mistaken for a computer flashdrive.
“We’ve heard a lot of things like vaping is safer than cigarettes, but Juuls are really stepping things up and mimicking the nicotine effects that cigarettes provide,” Rupp said, noting that a single Juul cartridge provides roughly the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. She added that students often begin vaping because it is considered “fun and cool,” but soon discover that being smokeless or electronic do not make the devices any less addictive than their real-tobacco counterparts.
In addition to the presence of vaping devices, Rupp said parents should also be aware of any unusual online purchases or packages, scents of fruity or bubble gum flavoring, an increase of thirst or nose bleeds in their children, a decrease of caffeine usage or the use of vaping lingo in text messages or on social media.
To further keep the school safe, Rupp also encouraged students to confidentially report any signs of vaping in the building to their teachers or administration.
“Parents should talk to their kids about vaping,” she said, urging parents to keep vaping devices out of the hands of their children. “It’s very important to partner with the school...so we can work together to help our students make good choices and be successful in and out of school.”