New Brunswick

End to vaping at Leo Hayes High School becomes cause for principal, student mentors

Leo Hayes High School principal Brad Sturgeon says he has a plan to end the epidemic of vaping at the school this coming year. 

When vaping arrived at Fredericton school, it was almost like 'a bomb went off'

Leo Hayes High School is concerned about the increasing number of students drawn to vaping. (Doug Husby/CBC)

Leo Hayes High School principal Brad Sturgeon says he has a plan to end the epidemic of vaping at the Fredericton school this coming year. 

"Education is the key and anchor of it all," Sturgeon said in an interview Wednesday.

While he knew vaping was out there, he was shocked when vaping arrived on the north side school's doorstep in November 2018. 

"It was almost like a bomb went off and all of a sudden kids were vaping," Sturgeon said. "They were outside vaping and we were catching them in the school vaping."

Rising popularity

A June report found the percentage of Canadians 16 to 19 years old using use e-cigarettes jumped from about eight per cent in 2017 to about 14 per cent in 2018. 

Vaping devices heat up a packet of liquid, which turns into an aerosol that's inhaled and exhaled amid clouds of smoke.

Although it is illegal for anyone under the age of 19 to purchase vaporizers or e-cigarettes, many students have been able to obtain them. Prices range from $40 and up while the e-liquid sells for $20 and up per bottle.  

Leo Hayes High School principal Brad Sturgeon is dealing with the vaping problem head on, with a plan to educate. He says 'we don't want our students to vape." 12:14

When vaping landed at Leo Hayes, discipline problems and concerns about student health grew, Sturgeon said. 

"We don't want anyone to vape."

To help eradicate the problem, a group of peer mentors — older students who help Grade 9 students entering the high school — asked administrators if they could create a presentation about the dangers of vaping. 

Grade 9 students will hear the message during their first day at school on Tuesday and that will be followed by messages over the rest of the school year to the entire student body. 

To get people talking

Other plans include having Health Canada make a presentation and create a communication plan with the parent school support committee. 

"The dialogue and the conversation has to start around this issue, and maybe if we can all put our heads together and all take responsibility as a society, we can hopefully stem this and kind of put the brakes on it."  

In his 11 years at the school, Sturgeon said he has caught only one person smoking tobacco in a boys' bathroom.

"But this was all of a sudden, it was like multiple people vaping inside." 

Leo Hayes High School principal Brad Sturgeon says education and student mentors are part of his plan to get rid of vaping at the school. (CBC)

Some students use a vaporizer called a Juul, which Sturgeon said looks like and is about the size of a jump drive from a computer, making it very small and discreet. 

"It's peer pressure, it's a cool thing," he said when asked why students are vaping. 

Even the scented vaping oil is marketed to be attractive. Critics say the variety of candy, dessert and fruit flavours are attractive to children. One pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

Sturgeon said he's smelled a strong scent of cotton candy in washrooms that lingers for a long time. 

Vaping dangers

Promoters believe vaping is safer than smoking, but recent information from the United States indicates there have been 193 potential cases of severe lung disease reported between the end of June to late August that are connected to e-cigarette use, with one resulting in death.

Health Canada said it doesn't have evidence of clusters of cases related to vaping but they might be occurring. 

Leo Hayes High School on the north side of Fredericton didn't have a vaping problem until the habit exploded on school property last November, Sturgeon says. (Google Street View)

"Vaping is not a positive thing and our responsibility is for the health and well-being of all students," Sturgeon said. 

He added many parents when contacted after their child was caught vaping were surprised to learn they were doing it. 

"The parents have to become part of the solution." 

Vaping and tobacco are prohibited in the school and on school property. If caught on the property, students spend a day in an in-school support room or detention. If caught in the building, it's an out-of-school suspension. 

Studies show vaping increased from eight per cent of Canadians 16 to 19 years old in 2017 to about 14 per cent in 2018. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

"We had about a dozen out of school suspensions directly related to vaping. That's a huge increase." 

But on the other side, Sturgeon said, some students who didn't vape felt intimidated by those they encountered who were vaping or exchanging vaping products. 

As the new school year quickly approaches, the principal said staff are happy a plan is in place to try to deal with the problem. 

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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