Navigating Youth Vaping

Welcome to Beyond the Bell podcast, where you get an inside look into school life. We cover school related topics that support your child's education and well-being. As you listen along, we hope you'll gain insights for navigating school with your child and leave with a deeper sense of connection between school and home. Here's your host, Chantelle Quesnelle. 

Chantelle: Hello, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic Families. This episode takes you Beyond The Bell and into the topic of vaping. What is vaping? Are young people doing it? Why do they do it? How are schools addressing this complex issue? Lots to cover in this episode, and we are so glad that you have all joined us. 

Our guest for this episode is the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board's assistant superintendent of safe and accepting schools. Kevin Kuiack. In his role, Kevin is responsible for developing and implementing a threat assessment protocol, updating the police school board protocol, developing and supporting schools with bullying awareness, prevention and intervention plans and healthy portfolios such as mentally healthy schools and topics such as vaping. 

Kevin has been at Simcoe Muskoka for over 23 years. In fact, before starting in his current role he was one of the longest serving principals at the school board and has served on a variety of ministry of education committees. Thanks for joining us, Kevin. Before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about why this topic is so important to you? 

Kevin: Thanks for inviting me Chantelle. Um There's a number of reasons, I guess one of the most important ones is um my mother, it's a really personal story. But um when I first became a principal within the first year, um my mother got sick and ended up dying because of breast uh lung cancer.

Um And uh she was very addicted to smoking, uh even so much so that uh she smoked at the hospital on her deathbed. So, uh it has become a real personal uh mission of mine to see if we can educate and kind of move our younger generation away from smoking and now vaping because of the highly addictive nature of it. 

Chantelle: No, absolutely. Thanks for sharing that, Kevin. I'm sure that's a story and an experience that um many of our listeners have had in their families and a passion that they hold as well. Maybe that's why they're tuning in. 

So I think um it might be helpful for us all to have a deeper understanding of vaping um because it might still be a new concept or a new, um a new issue for some families as uh… that they might be facing. So together, let's take some time to listen to some of our Simcoe Muskoka student leaders as they share some local statistics and facts about vaping from our health unit:

Student Leader 1: According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, vaping is becoming more common among high school students in Simcoe Muskoka.

In fact, our local statistics are higher than that of the provincial rate. According to the 2019 Ontario student drug use and health survey, 43% of high school students in Simcoe Muskoka reported using e- cigarettes in the past year. This is nearly double the rate in 2015 and significantly higher than the provincial rate, which is 28%. Daily d-cigarette use was reported by one in five or 20% of high school students in Simcoe Muskoka. This is twice the provincial rate. Three quarters of e-cigarette users in high school use e-cigarettes to contain nicotine and over one quarter have usede- cigarettes containing cannabis in the past year.

But how harmful is vaping? Well, about half of the students do not think regular use of E cigarettes is harmful. But what does the research tell us? 

Student Leader 2: Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol which is made when an e- liquid is heated by an e-cigarette Vape pen or pod. The aerosol contains nicotine and chemical flavourings that are inhaled deep into the lungs where they get absorbed into the bloodstream and travel to all parts of the body, including the brain. When e-liquids are heated, they produce by-product like formaldehyde, which is also found in cigarette smoke and known to cause cancer.

Did you know that youth who would never think to try smoking cigarettes are experimenting with vaping products? One reason for this is that e-cigarettes are available in thousands of candy and dessert flavours which makes them taste good and seem harmless. However, this is anything but the case. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, the same addictive drug found in tobacco cigarettes. In fact, a single pot of e-liquid can contain the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes or more. Nicotine is very addictive and young people can get hooked very quickly.

Many e-cigarettes are now owned by tobacco companies who have a long history of lying about the addictiveness of their products for the sole purpose of turning a profit. This is one of the reasons why the Federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Ontario have introduced regulatory measures and laws to limit the sale and use of e- cigarettes. However, they still find their ways into the hands of young people. In fact, 68% of youth report getting e-cigarettes from friends or family. Possible health effects of vaping include an increased heart rate and blood pressure, damage to the lungs and making pre-existing lung conditions similar to asthma worse. Research is constantly changing and it will take time to understand how vaping affects our health. But what is known is that for someone who has never smoked, vaping is not a safe or healthy alternative. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can affect memory, concentration, and impulse control and can cause cognitive and behavioural problems. Youth who Vape are 3 to 4 more times likely to start smoking cigarettes once addicted to nicotine through vaping and being addicted to nicotine at an early age increases the change of getting addicted to other drugs. So why do young people vape?

Student Leader 3: Ontario research suggests that students reported that they tried vaping because they were either curious about it or they wanted to try something new. We must also consider the influence of friends and peers who Vape and the culture related to vaping that can make it more difficult to stop. Some youth might also try it because they think it will help them manage their stress while there might be temporary stress relief. This really is temporary. Vaping nicotine causes the brain to release dopamine — a chemical that makes people feel good.

But nicotine is also very addictive, and teens get hooked quickly. Once a person starts vaping nicotine, it doesn't take long for the brain and body to get used to it, making them want more. This is nicotine addiction. When a person is addicted, they will also feel stressed because their brain is craving nicotine. Vaping makes those uncomfortable feelings go away for a little while, but the stressful feelings will return, making people feel the need to Vape again. This is the cycle of nicotine addiction and why people get fooled into thinking it is a stress reliever.

In fact, vaping before the age of 25 has been found to cause changes in the brain. It can make people feel moody and cause them to struggle with focus and learning. This can obviously lead to problems in school with friends and family, which results in, you guessed, it more stress. Furthermore, vaping can actually make stress worse. Nicotine causes the release of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. So when a person vapes, their body actually responds like it would if they felt stressed or anxious. Interesting, right? Needless to say the evidence is clear, and you are being misled, vaping will not help you cope with stress, need some ideas of what the research tells us will work for stress management?

Check out, and click on Mental Health. Or check out our Student Mental Health Website and our Instagram account. Back over to you Chantelle. 

Chantelle: OK. So Kevin, that's a lot of information to, to soak in and think about um, anything that stood out for you?

Kevin: There's a few things, I guess the one that really kind of troubles me a little bit is within Simcoe region, why there are so many students, uh so many students or so many young youth involved in vaping here.

You know, if we have, you know, double the amount of rates in the province. That's really a scary statistic. And I think it really begs the question of, you know, what's engaging them and what's causing them to want to get into that, that level of, I'm going to use the term- addiction uh, in this area. 

Chantelle: Yeah. No, that's it for me as, as well. Um, locally I think that really hits home to know that it's a, a particular issue in our area. And then, you know, from my mental health perspective, I'm also so curious about um you know, the “why” we heard that sometimes it's curiosity or social pressures or things like stress management, we hear.

Um And that just really reminds me how important it is for young people to know like how to say no or um no to vaping when it's offered in a way that doesn't have big social impacts if that's, you know, a barrier for some youth in, in, in saying no to vaping. Um, but also really helping young people understand the physiology of stress and vaping. Um, So that, that myth can really get busted. 

Kevin: I, I agree. I, I think one of the key pieces that we have to pay attention to here as well is that, you know, the the cigarette industry, and you know, the vaping industry has become so powerful, we have to really pay attention to media and what media is doing to influence our youth, and how can we get them to understand that they're actually being manipulated by, by these uh industries.

Chantelle: Yeah. And, and absolutely, when you think about all of the different flavuors and the marketing around that, particularly for vaping, um that really kind of stands out in terms of how and who these products are marketed to. And that's what I really love, and I know we're going to talk about it later in this, in this episode. And, and certainly it's something we've shared in many ways with our school board. But the Not An Experiment um resource really helps educate students and parents and caregivers around um strategies to approach that conversation around vaping, which includes understanding how the media and the, the the companies really target youth in that way. 

Kevin: Agreed. I, I, you know, Not An Experiment to me is probably one of the best resources that I've actually seen around in the last little while. Um I'm, I'm working with the District Health Unit on trying to identify some strategies and ways that we can kind of educate our youth and, and get them to be a better understanding of what they're actually getting themselves into. And uh not, not only does Not An Experiment, support the students, but it also gives parents a real great uh guideline and support with language.

How do I talk to my child who, when they're involved in vaping, and they don't seem to listen anymore? Um It, it, it's a real uh excellent resource. And I think it's something that we should be endorsing wherever we can. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And then coming back to my reflection on ways to say no, um that website resource also has language that youth can learn in terms of what that can look like and sound like for them when they're um in a social situation and, and how to say no for our listeners, um this website would be, And we'll make sure that that is in our um uh article that accompanies this um episode on our Beyond the Bell website. 

So, Kevin, let's jump into talking about vaping in school. And so maybe we'll start with prevention. So what does prevention look like at schools right now? 

Kevin: It's complicated because prevention, we'd like to say is an education and uh if, if students are educated, they'll prevent to use it. But uh like you had indicated, we have a high incident of vaping in this, in this community.

So what is it that we need to do to get our st- our students and our youth to prevent themselves from even getting involved in, in that level of um again, addiction if, if we can help it. Um I think there's a number of things that, you know, we have to kind of pay attention to and one is, you know, are our youth just looking for a quick fix, you know, something to kind of get their mind off of it to ease stress. You know, we've had lots of conversations, “Oh, it makes me feel better and I don't feel as anxious” and, and we clearly know that nicotine does actually the opposite to relieving stress. It actually gets things more fired up. 

So I think educating our students and, and just getting them to understand, you know, with the whole neurological piece behind vaping, um I think will be a real first step and maybe getting them to prevent them from even starting. 

Chantelle: It is such a complicated thing, even thinking about education, Um and, and for youth, and I think that's why it's so interesting that the education around vaping can take to- so many different perspectives from the legal perspective in terms of, you know, fines and, and charges and all of those things from um a substance use perspective and physiologically what happens in the body.

But then also that marketing and manipulation perspective that you added before, and I think from a developmental standpoint and, and what the, the research and literature tells us and the approach that Not An Experiment takes really highlights, you know, how to get um that message across to, to youth is through starting with that understanding of the industry. And so their resources really focus on that and um can really spark a great conversation, not only about vaping, but you can use that with other industries as well. But um, they have the resources there to have that conversation around that. 

Kevin: Absolutely. I, I was involved in a a a a staff activity where we actually had the health unit come and do the game. There is, it's Not An Experiment uh game that you can play to kind of understand and, and better uh engage yourself in the whole conversation around vaping. Uh It was a very interactive game and actually very informative at the same time. So I would certainly hope that, you know, they take that game and the website and bring it into our classrooms, especially in grade seven and eight.

You know, that's where the students seem to be very engaged in that peer pressure piece and uh wanting to feel connected to someone. Um It might just give them that little bit of an extra to say, “Hmm, I understand now, I don't think I wanna get into vaping because there's a lot of negativity behind it and I don't wanna, you know, get myself involved in that”. So, you know, the Not An Experiment to me is, you know, one of those absolutely amazing resources that I think we need to be endorsing a lot more within our system. Uh, just to kind of get involved in that prevention piece as well as building the awareness of what this is all about.

Chantelle: Yeah. Ab- absolutely. And for those listeners who are aware of the new or the updated grade seven and eight mental health curriculum, there's also a section in there that really focuses on substance um use and misuse and, and so it's, it's integrated in health curriculum already as well. And that's really important. And so understanding that because locally we also have increased rates compared to the province, it really makes it a local priority to have these conversations both at school and certainly at home. And there are resources to help us all with that. 

Kevin: Um Speaking with the health unit, they also see it as a significant priority as well. And so we've really become a good partnership in, in trying to support this. So they're pro promoting it from the health perspective. We're endorsing it from an education perspective and really trying to find a common ground and how we can really tackle it from all angles. 

Chantelle: You know, as we've talked about prevention, I think we've laid the framework that there are lots of resources; we need to have these conversations from multiple angles and find the one that works best for, um you know, for our listeners, for, for their youth and, and for, for their kids to, to have these conversations, and they can use the tools such as those from the health unit and Not An Experiment. But there's also probably curiosities out there, Kevin, in terms of responding to vaping in the school setting. So what are we doing when there is vaping that's happening um in schools or on school property.

Kevin: There's a big question. 

Chantelle: It is, right?! 

Kevin:  I am really, um, I have…

Chantelle: … and a complicated one! 

Kevin: Absolutely! Um, I have been attending, um, a caring and safe schools network, uh, conversation, uh, provincially with all different school boards around the area. And, uh, we are noticing this is a very significant trend in all of our schools right now. Um, and so I think it's really, um, it's prudent upon us to actually have some sort of response to it. So, you know, we have the Smoke Free Ontario Act from 2017 that basically prohibits smoking and vaping on school property.

So one of the things that we're doing right now to respond, is we're just ensuring that we have all of our signage up, you know, at the front of our schools, we're putting signage in our washrooms, because that tends to be the location where students engage in vaping because it's, you know, it's quiet, it's discreet -  that they think it’s discreet. Um, and so we, we're trying to just use the education piece with the signage. 

Um, and then we're really engaging in those open conversations with students once we're catching them involved in that process, you know, and making sure that they're fully aware of, you know, the Smoke Free Ontario Act about that potential that charges could be laid, you know, 12 to, to 16-year-olds can't be legally charged, but schools can still go through the progressive discipline process with them. Um, including and not limited to, here's the bad word, you know, suspension. Um, it is illegal to have possession and to be engaged in, in smoking or in vaping on school property and, and anywhere in general. But, um, from a school's perspective, I think they need to understand that there are legal consequences as well as health consequences. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And thinking about, you know, the, the school climate and I know you portfolio safe in accepting schools, the impact that um vaping at school can have on students who are not engaged in vaping in terms of feeling safe to, to use the washrooms or um to be in situations where vapes are being offered to them and, and they're having to navigate those social situations.

And so certainly we understand it is a very complex issue, wanting to look both at providing support to the students who are engaged in vaping behaviours, increasing their understanding and awareness and hopefully providing some resources around um strategies to, to quit. And I know we can talk about that um as well as attending to the school climate for the other students who are not engaged in, in vaping. 

Kevin: No, absolutely. I, I've actually heard from a number of parents and students as well who say that they actually avoid going to the bathroom during the day because they don't want to be put in the middle of, you know, having to, you know, cover-up for some of their friends, or you know, to just be around the Vape itself because they're worried, you know, just like second hand smoke, they're worried that the, the Vape vapour is actually going to be harmful to them.

What a sad state, you know, that we actually have students being afraid to go to the bathroom because of that, because of vaping happening there. So I think this is all part of our, our response and our action plan. So, one of the things that I'm working on is a joint document with the Health Unit as an education piece uh to help promote, you know, just the prevention, but also to highlight the responses that we're going to engage in with our students, and with our parents just so that everybody is on the same page.

Chantelle: Yeah, because we know um very quickly, that vaping can become an addiction. Um especially because the amount of nicotine and even a single Vape pod, right? And so knowing that, um considering uh the fact that a student might be addicted in the discipline process or in the support process, um if that is something that, that is affecting the student. And so I'm working with the, the Health Unit to also identify some of those key resources to support with quitting, for example. 

Kevin: Exactly. So, you know, even just from a progressive discipline standpoint, knowing that there is a potential for addiction, and you know, we, we it's really hard, we're not, we're not diagnosticians, we're not doctors, we, we can't determine if somebody's addicted. But part of the document that we've created is we've pulled some generalized statements about what addiction could look like or sound like um, when engaging in a conversation with a student. And if we are beginning to feel that there could be an addiction in, in place, we are, it is prudent that we actually get involved and try to support them. So, one of the things that we're really trying to deal with with the progressive discipline is that, you know, if a student comes into the office or they've been caught in the washroom is not just doing something punitive like dealing with “here is gonna be the response.

You're getting your one day suspension”. It's more engaging in understanding what's been triggering the behaviour. Why are they getting into vaping, why are they sneaking around and in, you know, in the bathrooms to engage? Um And then coming up with a a a bigger plan of support, um you know, well, clearly, if we, we find students, you know, vaping on school property, we, we'll most likely confiscate it um, and we'll have that conversation. But even with the suspension, I think one of the key pieces that we have to engage in is, is having that conversation when a student returns about, ok, what can we do to support you and getting those parents involved in that conversation as well.

Chantelle: Because of the nature of, of vaping, we know that um a suspension or the p- the, that the punitive approach is not likely in and of itself to stop the behavior right, to stop the vaping, because all those factors um that we've mentioned earlier in the podcast and that the student leaders have shared with us from a stats and information perspective as well. We need to look at it in a, in a bigger way and making sure that it is school, student and parents and caregiver is that everybody has the information that they need to um approach and support the student um regarding vaping because it isn't a one-and-done situation.

Typically it is conversations and supports that need time and attention. 

Kevin: Yeah, I completely agree. I think, you know, one of the pieces that we, we noticed with COVID is that there was a lot of individuals kind of moving away from the social aspect and doing things on their own. And, and I find with that sometimes that bringing back a positive relationship and positive experiences with other, with other people in person makes a big impact. So, you know, when you're talking to a student and yes, you're doing the discipline um getting into the second level of it and that is engaging in an active dialogue around, “Why are you doing this and what can we do to support you”, build that positive relationship that I think maybe some of our students are missing um and engaging the parents in it at the same time. So they see that we're not, I'm going back to, we're not being punitive, we're being responsive and we're really trying to support the student. 

Chantelle: Absolutely. Because if vaping is meeting a need, we need to work with that soon to figure out how else that needs can get met. Whether it is those social pieces, whether it is coping with, with stress, um, whatever that may be, um that youth likely needs support, figuring out how else to get that need met.

And when we have those caring adults that can support them in the process, we know we're more likely to have success and growth for that student. 

Kevin: Exactly. And, and again, we have to also be looking at, you know, if a student is actually addicted to vaping, we need to be able to support that student with some opportunities as well to “how do you get over that addiction?”. So I'm just referring back to Not An Experiment. It actually has a, a wonderful cessation support there called Quash where a student can, you know, get it connected to-

Chantelle:  It’s an app, right? 

Kevin: Yeah, it's an app that kind of helps support them in their addiction and helps them identify why they're doing it and maybe look at ways that they can slow it down.

Chantelle: Already, Kevin. We, we've touched on, well, our student leaders brought us some, some quick uh local facts and statistics around vaping. We had an exploration of what vaping prevention looks like in schools, certainly tried and true educational standpoint, providing information uh for students to help them with, with that decision-making. Um And then we've had a little bit of time to talk about how schools are responding to vaping and the different considerations that are in place both from, um, that discipline perspective, as well as the mental health perspective.

Um, Is there anything else that maybe I hadn't asked that would be helpful for us to, to talk about and share with our listeners today. 

Kevin: There's a lot, I, I think you've covered the majority. I think the key for me was just making sure that, you know, our youth know that we are here for them, right? When we get involved in things that are addictive, uh we can stand behind them and support them. I think our, our youth are going to feel much more connected and willing to engage in, you know, an opportunity to, to help one another.

So, uh I think we've done a good job just kind of outlining some of those key features for them. 

Chantelle: Well, I'm glad we've been able to, to chat about this and I, I know um we talked a little bit about age range um in the information and facts, but just a reminder to listeners that this is a elementary and a secondary um issue that our, our youth are, are facing. And so, um really important that um we're having those conversations um at a younger age, we're not waiting until they're getting into, you know, grade eight or going into high school that this is something being faced by, by younger students as well.

Well, everybody, we hope that this episode provided an inside look at the impact of vaping on young people in Simcoe Muskoka and the considerations that school leaders are taking when addressing both vaping prevention and response in our schools. 

Thank you so much to assistant superintendent, Kevin Kuiack for being here with us today to take us Beyond The Bell. Listeners if you'd like access to a transcript of this episode or read about our key topics in an online article, please check out our podcast website and don't forget about the Not An Experiment website that we've referenced throughout this podcast at Thanks so much, Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you. 

Thanks for listening to Beyond The Bell podcast. We hope you found today's episode helpful.

Beyond The Bell is brought to you by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and our Catholic Parent Involvement committee. It's hosted by Chantelle Quesnelle. Pauline Stevenson is our Executive Producer. Episodes are produced and edited by Portage Creative. 

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