The high school implements harsher repercussions for vaping as the state recognizes public health emergency

As vaping becomes a bigger problem among teenagers, the high school has reconsidered the consequences for being caught vaping in the last two years, adding an educational component.

The high school’s Student Handbook 2019-2020 states, “In the event that a student possesses tobacco products and nicotine delivery products, the products will be confiscated, [two] Saturday Schools assigned, and the completion of a research assignment [required].” For subsequent infractions, students receive one to three days of in-school suspension. Additionally, as a legal penalty, students must pay a $30 fine to the Town of Wellesley. 

There are two primary reasons for these consequences: furthering students’ education and keeping them in school.

In adding the educational component — which began this past year — to the punishment, the administration wants students to reflect on why they use these products and why they are harmful. Not only does the administration not want students using nicotine products themselves, but they also do not want other students being introduced to these products at school.

“There are students who almost want to get caught. They’re the ones who are sitting out brazenly in the bathroom area,” said Assistant Principal Mr. Marc Bender. “We’ve had situations where kids do it in class. Usually if they’re doing that, they’re looking for attention from their peers and they’re willing to risk the potential of getting caught, so maybe at that point, you’re working with a larger issue: not just smoking, but some other things that may be going on with that individual, and it’s coming out in that rebellious way.”

For these students, the administration thinks it is most important to work with them and their families to discover why they use tobacco or nicotine products, get to the root of the problem, and create a solution together.

In addition to Saturday Schools, the administration may implement a monthly after school educational component in which the American Cancer Society would come for a meeting.

“We felt like the kids who were getting caught repeatedly obviously were addicted and needed education and help. We also felt like if kids knew more about the way that Juul essentially played teenagers and marketed directly to them, and if they know more about the health consequences, then maybe they would consider not doing it, or trying to quit,” said Assistant Principal Ms. Sarah Matloff.

Particularly for students with repeat offenses, it is important to stay in class, which is why the administration decided on Saturday Schools, with in-school suspension as a later punishment.

“I don’t want students to miss class time for it, so sometimes people say ‘I really want a suspension out of this, make it way more’, but the same student who’s experimenting with this sort of thing, sometimes there’s a correlation with how they’re doing in the classroom or other pieces of their life. To take away the structure of school as a consequence, I don’t find as beneficial,” said Bender. 

Vaping poses similar issues as cigarettes used to, particularly in that the long-term health consequences are not widely known yet. In light of recent effects — 39 deaths and 2,051 cases of illness in America as of November 5 — people are only beginning to realize how unsafe it is. In response, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a public health emergency on September 24 and banned the sale of vaping products in Massachusetts for four months.

“It comes out in high schools because it’s a rebellious stage of life and they probably get a little buzz off of it, just like people back in the ’60s were smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. Now it’s just a little more dangerous because it’s super easy, the potency is much stronger, it can be highly addictive, and it can damage your lungs, where just five years ago, people thought that it was safe. Now people digest the fact that it is not safe,” said Bender. 

“I think the education aspect of the new consequence is great as research to vaping’s devastating effects are developing and becoming clearer every day,” said Violet Lahive ’20.

After Charlie Baker’s ban, the administrative team, including Ms. Joanne Grant, Wellesley Public Schools director of fitness and health, began discussing how they can support students who are addicted and now cannot access vaping products. This extra support may come in the form of support from the social worker and adjustment counselor, extra visits with guidance counselors, or allowing extra breaks from class.

“What can we do during the day? While we’re glad for their overall longevity health, that Governor Baker is curbing vaping more, we also see an immediate need for the kids that we know have an addiction,” Grant said.

In terms of education for all students at the high school, the Fitness and Health department has revamped their curriculum in the past two years to make vaping a focus. 

Previously, health classes taught students about cigarettes and nicotine in general, but once electronic cigarettes came on the scene, the Fitness and Health department added to their curriculum to directly address e-cigarettes, vaping, and Juuling.

“We talk about all the things that you can put into the Juul. It isn’t just nicotine. And the cartridges that say water only is false; there’s a little bit of nicotine in there… I’ve been in professional presentations and taken classes from doctors that are saying that they’ve done studies on this, and yes, there’s nicotine in there because they’re trying to get the user addicted and that’s the way to do it,” Grant said.

Beyond not knowing the extent of the dangers of vaping, many students lack the long-term perspective to see the effects of vaping on their lives.

“Anecdotally, students that I’ve had that share that they vape, they seem to have this cavalier attitude that it’s really ok. Lots of students that I’ve spoken to said, ‘I’m not addicted. I don’t have an addiction. I can stop whenever I want.’ But they don’t [stop]. And I think that they are addicted,” Grant said.

“I think that something normal for adolescents is they think they are invincible. Which in some ways is a good thing, but in health matters it’s not,” said Matloff.

Ultimately, the administration’s goal is to help students in whatever way they can, so in addition to the listed punishments, they will do whatever is best for the individual student.

“Educating any individual about making the best choices for themselves is the most important thing that we can do,” said Bender.


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