High school students stealthier about vaping

Youth workers in high schools focus on relating, communicating, and educating

A young man vaping. Photo by Cianna Jolie via Unsplash
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By Lina Chung

Students are getting stealthier at vaping in order to evade restrictions in Vancouver high schools, according to a district youth counsellor.

Ted Holkestad is part of a team of youth counsellors at the Vancouver School Board working directly with students and staff in Vancouver high schools.   Vancouver School Board policy prohibits students from smoking or vaping on school property.

“These [vaping] devices are so stealth, you cannot catch kids. This is what I try to tell the adults. It’s like trying to chase ants,” Holkestad said.

Holkestad said a new vaping practice he’s seeing among students is “zeroing,” when a vaper holds the aerosol in their lungs longer so no tell-tale plume of aerosol is released.  Vaping cannabis is also virtually odourless with the increased usage of dab pens.  Vape pens use oil or liquid cartridges, while dab pens use wax, known as a dab.  Dabs have high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.

According to a 2018-19 Health Canada survey of youth, 34 per cent of students in grades 7-12 have tried a vaping product and 20 per cent have reported using them within the last 30 days.

Maria Hubinette, PAC co-chair of a Vancouver high school agrees, student vapers are getting smarter. “I know vaping exists [here] just like everywhere else because my kids tell me this,” Hubinette wrote in an email response to the Voice.  “Whether [our school] has less of a problem than other schools … is it true or are kids just hiding it better from teachers and administration.”

Emilie Reyes, a Grade 10 student at Killarney high school, said vaping is an attempt to gain popularity. “Some people think it’s cool or they want to fit in.”

Instead of ostracizing or demonizing kids, Holkestad’s recommendation to school administrators is connection, prevention and education.

According to Holkestad, the key question to explore with youth is what actual need their vaping is fulfilling. Do they have social needs, mental health needs, or are they anxious about something that vaping helps them with?

“If we can get to that, then we can work with it,” Holkestad said.

“That’s where my passion is. I trust young people can make good choices.  They just need support, information and trust.  Don’t demonize them for things that everyone struggles with.”

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