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Alexandria Area High School faculty combating student vaping

Alexandria Are High School administrators, the school resource officer and the director of Healthy Voices Healthy Choices have been cracking down on students using electronic nicotine devices known as "vapes."

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Vaping and e-cigarette products include nicotine, an addictive substance, as well as formaldehyde and acetone. (Getty images)

ALEXANDRIA โ€” It seems that Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boys Room" is no longer relevant these days. Today, there could be an adaption of the song titled "Vapin' in the Bathroom."

Alexandria Are High School administrators, the school resource officer and the director of Healthy Voices Healthy Choices have been cracking down on students using electronic nicotine devices known as "vapes."

"I'm old enough to compare it to cigarette smoking," said AAHS Vice Principal Robert Brakke. "It's one of those things teenagers are trying. I think it is a big issue for us to keep battling. I don't know if it's that much different than when kids were smoking cigarettes. I think the availability and the ease of hiding makes it more challenging."

Brakke says the most common place students are vaping is in the school's bathrooms. Most of the time they go in large groups, which can be a giveaway that the students may be vaping.

Since the beginning of the 2022 - 2023 school year, 22 students have been caught using the devices on campus. Brakke and Alex Swanson, AAHS's school resource officer, said Discovery Middle School is also dealing with students vaping on campus.

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Brakke said that with COVID-19, it is hard to compare this year to previous years as far as the number of students vaping but "it feels like more, cause we are now looking for it more."

To deter students from using them, Swanson has been issuing misdemeanor citations as the act violates city ordinances.

"It's like anything else, I get the discretion of when to cite and when not to cite," said Swanson. "I think last year there wasn't any or minimal citing."

Brakke added that there may have been one or two citations issued last school year but then it stopped after a discussion was had on whether citations should be given out or not.

"At the beginning of (this) year, we weren't issuing citations and it didn't feel like we were curbing behavior at all. We continued to keep finding it," said Swanson who added that after a second discussion, they decided to start issuing citations. "It's a petty misdemeanor ticket. It's actually a city ordinance violation... The goal of law enforcement is to change behavior. If someone is speeding, we want them to slow down... the behavior wasn't changing so we decided to make a change."

When asked if a warning is issued before a citation is issued, Swanson said that since student gossip spreads like wildfire, a citation is usually handed out the first time.

"When we were catching a few vapes at the beginning of the year and not writing tickets, in my mind, that's the warning. That should be the indicator that we are watching for (vapes)," said Swanson. "Now, it's trying to be as impartial as possible. Whatever you do on your own time, that's on you. That's outside of school. That doesn't involve us here. But, if you bring it here, now it's a problem. It's against school policy. It's against city ordinance."

Students also have to attend a class with Swanson and Healthy Voices, Healthy Choices coordinator, Erin Cozatt. The class is split into two parts. Cozatt runs the first part where she educates the students on the physical and mental consequences of nicotine abuse as well as resources for how to quit. Swanson does the second part where he informs the students of the legal ramifications that come from underage nicotine use.

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"It's happening more than we know but we are not in the business of acting like a prison and searching every kid all the time," said Brakke. "We are trying to educate and help them make the right decisions."

There have been four classes this school year. They run about an hour and a half.

Cozatt is a health educator with Horizon Public Health and the Healthy Voices Healthy Choices Coalition coordinator. A role she has been in since last August.

Ebacco's operating manager, Len Worthington, is so concerned about the issue, he brought it to the attention of administrators at Alexandria Area High School.

"Healthy Voices is a group of community members that work with Alexandria youth in the prevention of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use," Cozatt said. "Healthy Voices works by education in the classrooms, working with youth groups to create a positive school culture, and promoting positive messaging throughout the community."

The class Cozatt teaches follows the curriculum from the American Lung Association. During class, she talks about the health risks of vaping and the myths that are associated with tobacco. Students are also given resources to help them quit from teen-focused websites like mylifemyquit.org and HeyNorm.org .

"The students look at their tobacco use and dependence, and why they chose to use tobacco products. We talk about what they are feeling when they choose to use and other activities they can do instead of vaping," she said. "We also discuss how we can have a healthy lifestyle and how tobacco plays a role in their future."

Cozatt says when discussing the reasons students tried vaping, the most common are "curiosity, boredom and peer pressure." She added that some of the students only tried vaping once or twice while others admitted to feeling addicted.

"I do think that the classes make a difference," Cozatt said. "I believe that the students have an open and honest conversation and are willing to learn. Officer Swanson and I both encourage the students to use us as support systems and we are looking out for their health and well-being."

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Cozatt said that signs your child may be vaping can include:

  • A new sweet smell
  • Drinking more water
  • Nosebleeds
  • New batteries or chargers
  • Discarded vaping pods or devices.

Resources for Parents

American Lung Association's talkaboutvaping.org . The phone app, โ€œ Talk. They Hear You ." It includes ideas on how to have hard conversations with your teen about tobacco, alcohol, or other drug use.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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