The vaping epidemic has hit schools with a stunning intensity. It cuts across all school types, all demographics, and all socioeconomic levels. Field reports from principals describe a saturation of vaping products well beyond students’ self-reported use by 4 in 10 high schoolers, as revealed in national data.
As I speak with school leaders across the nation, especially at the high school level, I hear the same stories of addiction, severe illness, and even death. In addition to the well-documented costs to student health and the damage nicotine causes to developing brains, vaping has opportunity costs. In a recent NASSP survey, 60 percent of high school principals reported that their administrative teams spend at least five hours every week on vaping-related issues—with nearly 20 percent of administrative teams losing more than 15 hours each week to vaping-related issues. That is 15 hours each week that school leaders would otherwise dedicate to working on instruction with teachers, to analyzing data to improve schoolwide curriculum, to building external relationships that bring community resources into the school, and to other crucial elements of school leadership that go undone unless principals do them.
As NASSP President-Elect Robert Motley shared during a December congressional hearing sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the solutions are a matter of people and policy. The most effective way to combat vaping in schools is to build a culture that rejects it—a culture in which every student feels known and valued. Connectedness is the best deterrent, and it relies heavily on our leadership.
At this point, we all recognize that we cannot discipline our way out of this crisis. As several of the students powerfully articulated during the congressional hearing, vaping is a public health issue that has been forced upon schools. It calls for coordinated and well-resourced efforts of education, public health, law enforcement, and other community agencies with a stake in our students’ success to both prevent the spread of vaping and intervene when the habit has already taken hold. We need the Food and Drug Administration to follow through on its promise to remove flavored vapes from the market. In short, we need to align our policies with our realities, and that is why NASSP has been such an ardent supporter of legislation such as H.R. 2339—Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019. (Visit www.nassp.org/advocacy to take action.)
Know that NASSP will continue to advocate on your behalf to Congress and to the media to curtail the spread of vaping, and we encourage you to visit the NASSP Policy & Advocacy Center to discover how you can make your voice heard. As always, thank you for allowing NASSP to be a small part of the extraordinary work you do each day.
Executive Director, NASSP