From the Superintendent
Escape the Vape
In 2017 and 2018, vaping use skyrocketed in the United States and led the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use among youth as an epidemic. Moreover, in 2018, data from the CDC and FDA showed that more than 3.6 million youth—including one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students—used a vaping product within the past month. The CDC’s most recent data, published in October 2019, indicates that there have been 1,604 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury reported from 49 states, including 34 deaths.
According to a California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) in the 2017-2018 school year, 29 percent of the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s (LBUSD) 11th-grade students reported using an e-cigarette (vape) within the past month. The reported average recent use across Orange County for 11th-grade students was 13 percent. To better understand specific aspects of student perceptions of vaping, including access, perceptions of harm, perceptions of use among peers, and more, LBUSD staff incorporated custom questions into the 2017-2018 CHKS. The survey findings help guide anti-tobacco/vaping education within the district and provide important information on program outcomes.
There are three primary components of the anti-tobacco/vaping education in LBUSD. These are aligned with best-practice public health models for reducing harmful risk behaviors and include: 1) Increase awareness of the science of addiction, the chemical hooks in nicotine, and vaping, and short and long term health impacts; 2) Increase awareness of the influence of marketing, including social media, targeted marketing toward youth, and how to resist common marketing tactics; and 3) Healthy decision making and refusal skills to avoid initial experimentation. A fourth component involves providing cessation and support resources to students and families already impacted by nicotine addiction.
Public health prevention data tells us that students’ perspective of the rate of peers’ use is highly related to how culturally acceptable vaping is among youth. The CHKS findings revealed that students’ perceptions of others’ vaping were very high when compared to self-reported use in the last month, indicating a mismatch between reality and perception. Specifically, among 7th-graders, students estimated that 66 percent of other students vaped at least once a month; among 9th-grade students, they estimated that 93 percent of other students vaped a least once a month; and among 11th-graders, students estimated that 97 percent of other students vaped at least once a month. Accordingly, one method that the district uses to combat misperception of vaping rates among youth is to share corrective norming information gathered from the CHKS with students, staff, and families in a variety of settings. This corrective norming work is also a foundation of the broader alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention efforts championed by LBUSD’s partners in the Laguna Beach Community Coalition. When students have accurate information that reflects the reality that the majority of students do not use alcohol, tobacco/vape, or other drugs, they are better equipped to utilize their refusal skills in the moment to avoid experimentation or initial use.
At Laguna Beach High School and Thurston Middle School, Tobacco-Use Prevention Education (TUPE) site leaders run multiple awareness campaigns that are youth-driven to increase disapproval of vaping among students and to link healthy lifestyles with clean air and lungs. Activities include anti-vape and healthy lung messaging on T-shirts, advertising within the Brush & Palette student newspaper and around campus, and delivering the evidence-informed instruction within middle school physical education and 9th-grade health classes.
Prevention and intervention is a community-wide effort. We work locally with teachers and staff to increase students’ awareness of the harm tobacco products in all forms cause to a healthy lifestyle. In partnership with the Laguna Beach Community Coalition, a multi-agency stakeholder group, public health campaigns (Raising Healthy Teens and Strengths in Numbers OC) and youth leadership development have been a cornerstone of prevention efforts. Two Laguna Beach High School students spoke at the Sept. 17 Laguna Beach City Council meeting, at which the Council voted unanimously to explore expanding Laguna’s current no-smoking ordinance to include an additional local ordinance to ban the sale of flavored vaping products within the city limits.
We believe strongly that our collective multi-agency efforts, in partnership with parents, policymakers, prevention experts, and student leaders, will eliminate the e-cigarette public health epidemic among our youth.
Dr. Michael Keller, director of social and emotional support, contributed to this report.