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Vaping in Schools - How Is This Issue Being Managed?

13/10/22
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Vaping is being described as the new smoking. Children from all walks of life and of varying ages are ‘exploring’ and taking up this addictive habit and schools, as is usually the case, are on the front line in trying to curtail this risky behaviour.

 

There have been innumerable media reports and articles written about student vaping and the hazards and risks associated with this behaviour. In 2021, School Governance published an article that hoped to educate schools and teachers not just about the then growing trend, but also about the devices and their contents, and then went on to describe some controls for this risk that schools may wish to contemplate.

 

 

What Are Schools Doing? 

Schools may wish to consider some of the suggestions below if vaping is already becoming a problem, as has been the case in this media report (Slow learners: Kids bag schools for ‘wrong’ vape tactics) from South Australia. Within this article, according to a survey of students, South Australian schools have adopted the wrong tactics to reduce vaping by students. Students have complained about being searched by teachers, having toilet doors removed at schools and being asked to “snitch” as vaping remains rampant in schools.

Recent media reports, online feedback from the previous School Governance article and anecdotal conversations with schools and education bodies have provided the following possible controls that schools may wish to consider in relation to vaping:

 

1. Locking Bathroom Facilities

Some schools are choosing to lock bathroom facilities during class times with students asking for a key from a teacher when they need to use the bathroom facilities. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that schools across New South Wales were locking toilets outside break times, but families say restrictions are causing health and hygiene problems for students. There have been similar reports of schools locking toilet doors in other states and territories such as this one in Queensland. According to this article, the practice has received mixed reviews from parents, but the majority think it’s a small sacrifice for the potential wellbeing of their children. Note, there have also been reports of some schools removing toilet doors.

2. Installation of ‘Vape’ Detectors
This has been done by many schools as noted in this media report. The sensors are being installed in toilets, and alarms in them send an alert to teachers which, with the help of CCTV in some schools, can identify students who are most at risk from vape smoke. However, if your school is contemplating this type of control, have you investigated the sensors and what they may sense and how they report? Some of the sensors will also pick up the use of cannabis. Others are triggered by deodorant vapours, often resulting in many false alarms. Some, although hard-wired, send information via text, thereby making them susceptible to being hacked which could open up privacy risks for schools.

3. Swipe Cards
Some schools have opted for the use of swipe cards on bathroom doors and others have taken this one step further by using biometric scanners for fingerprints. This type of monitoring is mostly used to reduce incidents of vandalism but it could also be used, in conjunction with other controls, to identify or reduce the number of students who are vaping. As the article notes, this approach also raises privacy issues.

4. CCTV Systems
The use of CCTV systems shows which students entered or exited a toilet block at a certain time. If a school installs cameras outside the bathrooms (not inside), they could monitor student entry and egress and advise students that they are to report any issues of vandalism, smoking, vaping etc if they noticed this during their bathroom visit. According to this article in the Macquarie Port News, Director of Educational Leadership for the Hastings Principals Network (public schools) Andrew Kuchling said "Some of the approaches include monitoring places where students are known to vape, emphasising anti-vaping education and working with police to stop the sale of vapes to students.

5. Bag and Locker Searches and Confiscation of Contraband
Staff should be trained regarding how to and when they can conduct a search of student property, if they are made aware of a contraband item such as a vape device being in a student’s bag, desk or locker. They must also follow the school’s confiscation policy if contraband property is found.

6. Enrolment Agreements
According to this article from Colins, Biggers and Paisley Lawyers, a school's Enrolment Agreement could also include information that addresses student (and school) property searches, the school's attitude to vaping, and the consequences for this conduct. In addition, they recommend that Enrolment Agreements should specifically note the prohibition of vaping devices on school campus and that searches may be conducted.

7. Education Campaigns
According to The New Daily, health authorities are being urged to roll out a public education campaign to deter young people from vaping nicotine. Students should also receive age-appropriate health education to enable and support them to make informed choices and to minimise the harm associated with e-cigarettes particularly as one of the reasons that teenagers gravitate towards vaping is that they often believe it is a safe alternative to smoking tobacco. Schools should also seek to educate students about the influence of ‘peer pressure’ and making ‘good decisions’ in relation to this behaviour.

8. Staff and Parent Training
Schools should ensure that staff are informed about how to identify e-cigarette devices, the different forms of vaping paraphernalia and what behaviours to look out for. They should also be trained on how to deal with students who have these devices in their possession and/or are caught in the act of smoking or vaping. Staff should also be given playground duty in the ‘hot spot’ areas before and after school and during breaks. Schools should also open up a conversation with parents about e-cigarette devices. They should explain what they look like, how students are able to purchase them online and why parents should be wary of health concerns.

9. Behaviour Management Policies
Schools may also need to update their behaviour management or discipline policies to include sanctions for students who are caught with contraband smoking implements or vaping products and sanctions for those who sell or supply these products to other students.

 

Concluding Comments

As schools are working to stop students from vaping, there are calls for vapes to be better regulated, subjected to tougher advertising laws and stamped with warning labels.

According to The University of Western Australia (UWA), researchers from UWA and Curtin University are investigating ways that state laws can be changed to shield young people from advertisements for e-cigarettes on social media, including from influencers. The researchers have been looking at ways that legislation and regulatory frameworks can be modified to reduce children’s exposure to vaping ads. The project team will review current legislation and compare it to laws in relevant areas internationally before making practical recommendations on changes to legislation, regulatory frameworks and policy.

However, it is still up to schools to provide a duty of care for their students now, and this means that they should not rely solely on general public education campaigns or even potential legislative change. Both strategies may be effective in the long run but they are likely to take quite a long time before they influence genuine behavioural change.

Schools need to develop anti-vaping education programs for students, staff and parents and they need to incorporate other controls such as some of the ones mentioned in this article that fit within the school’s ethos and are supported by the student and parent bodies, and they need to do this now.

 

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Craig D’cruz

With 39 years of educational experience, Craig D’cruz is the Principal Consultant and Sector Lead, Education at Ideagen CompliSpace. Craig provides direction on education matters including new products, program/module content and training. Previously Craig held the roles of Industrial Officer at the Association of Independent Schools of WA, he was the Principal of a K-12 non-government school, Deputy Principal of a systemic non-government school and he has had boarding, teaching and leadership experience in both the independent and Catholic school sectors. Craig has also spent ten years on the board of a large non-government school and is a regular presenter on behalf of Ideagen CompliSpace and other educational bodies on issues relating to school governance, school culture and leadership.

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