Written by Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Jay Brewer and Notre Dame Academy Principal Jack VonHandorf
As professional educators and administrators, much of our time, in addition to efforts surrounding academics, is spent ensuring the health and wellness of our school communities. Those issues encompass an entire range of topics involving both physical and mental wellness matters. The overall goal of our schools is to promote a culture of health and safety while continuing to meet the responsibility of engaging our students in meaningful learning.
One unforeseen health issue has come to the forefront of concern over recent years – vaping. While we did not anticipate the emergence of vaping among high school students, it has now become a crisis. Moreover, vaping has become a critical problem for many middle school students as well.
Together we have decades of experience as educators in Greater Cincinnati schools and we feel strongly that tobacco use by students, most especially vaping, has become an unmanageable problem for area schools. The reason behind this is simple – addiction. Many students are vaping even before the school day begins. Vaping is the inhaling of a vapor created by an electronic cigarette, also known as an e-cigarette. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a toxic substance which is a highly addictive drug. Teenagers do not have to vape every day to become addicted but once they are addicted, they feel the need to vape all day.
Despite what manufacturers have led us to believe, vaping is neither a safe alternative to smoking nor a good way to taper yourself off cigarettes. It is frightening to see the enormous industry based on the sale of vapes and associated paraphernalia marketed to adolescents. These items allow children to hide their vaping habit from parents, teachers and administrators alike. For example, there are vapes that look like thumb drives, pens and watches; and hoodies that have an inside pocket specifically designed to make the vape secretly accessible anytime, anywhere – even during class. All these items can be easily purchased online.
Sadly, we both have firsthand experience with students who simply cannot make it through the day without vaping. These young men and women are heartbreaking examples of research that demonstrates the fact that teens are 16 times more likely to vape than adults. And no matter what their age, nicotine can affect memory, concentration, and self-control, and it can worsen anxiety and depression. Many students and families are truly struggling with nicotine addiction and all that it involves. It is difficult to watch and not a problem we can ignore.
As you may know, two Northern Kentucky cities, Dayton and Bellevue, recently passed smoke-free ordinances (including vaping). They have taken a stand in support of health and wellness in their communities. We commend their leadership for adopting a firm stand on these issues and we applaud their citizens for advocating for such an important cause. Both cities will be better for it – better places to live and work. They will also be modeling healthier habits for their youth and for all of Northern Kentucky.
Soon it will be time for Highland Heights to consider a similar ordinance and we hope their citizens and leaders do the right thing by all their residents, especially for the young people growing up there. We encourage them to seriously consider the positive impact a smoke-free ordinance would provide have on their community. By prohibiting smoking in public spaces and workplaces, the proposed ordinance protects public health and welfare. It is structured to ensure all citizens and any visitors can breathe smoke-free air.
We challenge everyone in Northern Kentucky to become better educated about the dangers of tobacco use, more specifically vaping. We suggest that all adults model healthy behaviors and talk with their children about vaping. Information truly is power, and we want our youth to have the powerful tools they need to grow and succeed as healthy individuals.
That success requires the entire community to collaborate in order to protect our kids from vaping and addiction. It’s not about an individual or “those kids” but rather about taking responsibility. Allowing children access to such devices (even tacitly) is simply failing in our role as protectors. We must do better.
As educators, we encourage our students to think critically and make good choices. We strongly believe that when it comes to the decision to vape, choosing to be smoke-free is the smart thing to do.