I-Team: How are local schools dealing with teen vaping?


WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Massachusetts state Attorney General Maura Healey announced a lawsuit this week against the e-cigarette company JUUL, alleging it illegally marketed its products to underage buyers.

Healey has hard facts to back up her claim, the statistics show an alarming number of teens are vaping. Many of those teens are vaping nicotine and the 22News I-Team found out that now local school departments are attempting to balance their approach on discipline with a new emphasis on addiction treatment. And some schools are doing better than others.

“I don’t know what’s in it. I don’t know a whole lot about it. I don’t know if any of us do,” said Jadwiga Burke of West Springfield.

Burke has seven grandchildren. Two of whom are in high school, three are in middle school. Burke is right to be concerned because the research shows that kids as young as middle school age are experimenting with vaping.

Don: Is vaping even on your radar as a grandparent?

“Well it is because I’m concerned for my grandchildren. Really if you put like five things in front of me and say pick out the vaping product, I probably could not,” said Burke.

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The CDC said that in 2019, almost 1 in 4 American teenagers used tobacco products. But younger people aren’t drawn to cigarettes. Instead, they’re taking up vaping and many teens don’t realize that, just like cigarettes, vaping is highly addictive.

“Unfortunately now we’re creating a whole new generation that are going to be dependent on nicotine, may not be in the form of a cigarette, but in the form of something else.”

Dr. Aaron Kugelmass, VP and Medical Dir. of the Heart & Vascular Program at Baystate Medical Center

The medical community agrees that nicotine use in teens can slow brain development and affect memory, concentration, learning, self control, attention, and mood.

Don: Is vaping a problem in your school?

“Yes, yes it absolutely is,” said Tim Connor, Director of Curriculum Instruction Assessment in West Springfield.

The 22News I-Team contacted more than a dozen local school departments.

We wanted to know how they deal with teen vaping. Do they discipline or treat the addiction?

We heard back from a handful of schools including West Springfield and Holyoke.

Holyoke incorporates information about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping at each grade level, starting in kindergarten. School nurses also provide resources and referral services to students who may need additional support.

West Springfield is taking their fight against teen vaping a step further.

“We’re really trying to take a look at this from the addiction point of view. This is an addiction. So we can’t just say to students who are addicted, ‘stop,’ and think that we’re done. It’s an addiction, just like any adult,” said Connor.

So far, West Springfield doesn’t have a specific in-house nicotine addiction treatment program, but the 22News I-Team has learned that they’re actively looking for solutions.

After seeing an uptick in teen vaping on campus this past December, the school gathered together several community stakeholders, including the sheriff’s department, town health department and the mayor’s office.

Together they’re using social media to educate teens and parents – and grandparents – about vaping.

“It scares me right now. I know they’re not, but that doesn’t mean tomorrow that someone isn’t going to talk them into do that,” said Burke.

The other three school departments that responded to our inquiry were Springfield, South Hadley, and Ludlow.

South Hadley’s superintendent told me that they’ve altered their approach to teen vaping away from discipline and instead focus more attention on educating teens about the dangers of vaping.

Ludlow collaborates with outside counseling services for addiction.

And Springfield city schools told the I-Team, Springfield doesn’t have any programs in place specifically for vaping. In fact, the I-Team was told there are no reports of any addictions associated with vaping, per the district’s nursing department.

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