CLIFTON PARK — A group of parents in the Shenendehowa Central School District on Monday night learned about the growing use of electronic cigarettes and how the practice could be affecting their children. For many of them, it was their first real introduction to the topic.
The meeting, held in the Gowana Middle School Auditorium, was co-hosted by the Prevention Council in Saratoga Springs and a special committee made up of parents, administrators, board members and teachers meant to combat vaping in the district and educate students about the trend, especially younger students.
Unlike traditional cigarettes or cigars, e-cigarettes require no combustion and produce no smoke and contain no tobacco. Instead, they boil liquids containing nicotine and salts that produce an aerosol cloud.
One brand specifically, the Juul, with its small, sleek and easy-to-conceal design, has given its name to the larger trend of young students using the device, or “Juuling.”
As Shen grapples with a rising tide of students who use such devices, health teachers and other district officials are trying to figure out how to teach parents, students and staff members about a dangerous device that is easily accessible, utilizes addictive chemicals, and yet, until recently, has gone largely unstudied and unregulated.
Bill Luke, the assistant principal at Acadia Middle School who is on the committee, kicked off the presentation by assuring parents that, while vaping is often referred to as an epidemic in high schools, it hasn’t reached that point in the district’s middle schools.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration reported that from 2017 to 2018 the number of high school students who used e-cigarettes had jumped up by 1.3 million.
“I want to be very clear. Vaping is not an epidemic here in our middle school,” he said. “Is it happening in our school? No, not really. Is it happening a little bit with certain students outside of school? We’re hearing a little bit more and more about that,” he said.
Luke added that the middle schools are in a unique position: They can work on preventative measures to ensure that young students go into high school armed with knowledge.
“We have a really wonderful and unique opportunity to not be reactive, like they have to be at the high school, but to be proactive,” he said.
Many parents at Monday’s event knew next to nothing about vaping in schools. As they walked into the auditorium, one parent, Maria Atwood, talked about how she had found a Juul in the cushion of the sofa in her home.
“It touches everybody, but I don’t know anything about it,” she said.
Patty Kilgore, director of school-based services at the Prevention Council in Saratoga Springs, explained that the rise of Juuling happened quickly.
A huge chunk of time her job currently, she said, is spent researching electronic cigarette use and explaining what the issues are with the devices to parents.
“This is 90 percent of my job right now,” Kilgore said.
Throughout the presentation, other parents expressed shock as they learned about the sweet and sugary flavors used to entice people to electronic smoking devices, as well as the brightly colored advertising that often floods the social media spheres of their children.
Others expressed dismay at the lack of federal regulation of the devices.
Kilgore said adults are not necessarily the customer base the electronic cigarette companies are courting.
“It’s been out there. We just haven’t seen it,” she said to the parents.