Robert Shaner is superintendent of Rochester Community Schools
There has been a considerable amount of debate over the past few months over the alarming statistics that indicate the crisis Michigan is facing when it comes to e-cigarette use among our teenagers and what our state can, and should, do to combat it.
According to a U.S. Surgeon General advisory, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students increased a staggering 900 percent from 2011 to 2015. In the past year, use has continued to increase among high school students another 78 percent, leaving more than 1 in 5 high school students, along with 1 in 20 middle school students, now regularly using e-cigarettes.
It should go without saying that e-cigarette use among teens carries significant risk, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently confirmed the nicotine in most of these vaping products is “highly addictive” and harmful to brain development for children and young adults into their mid-20s. That reality makes it particularly concerning that marketing tactics for vape “juice” often are used to target our youth. These include adding fruity and sweet flavors with appealing names, such as cinnamon roll, birthday cake, and gummy bear.
Educators have seen this problem continue to grow first hand. Rochester Community Schools has seen a 71 percent increase in tobacco-related incidents over the past two years despite efforts to both educate students on their dangers and update student codes of conduct to address offenses related to their use.
As more and more vape shops have opened in our communities, often only steps away from our schools, and utilizing marketing tactics that appeal directly to our students, it has become an increasingly losing battle to curb their use of e-cigarettes both on and off school property.
This reality that schools across Michigan have struggled to combat use made Governor Whitmer’s move to ban the sale of flavored nicotine products not only one that was necessary, but one that is worthy of applause from educators and parents across the state.
The governor’s push to ban these products that have long been marketed directly at teenagers supported every school’s efforts to curb their use and educate our students on their health risks. It assists the mission of educators to protect our students and ensure their safety and well-being while on school grounds, and helps every parent do the same at home.
Awareness, education and community partnerships are key to every success we have in our schools. Establishing healthy personal connections between students and staff is also critical to foster conditions and environments that promote making healthy choices.
The work of teaching and learning is all about hope, inspiration and love for all students. Our children are our most precious possessions and we can, and must, do everything we can to ensure their safety and well-being.
Governor Whitmer’s ban of flavored vaping products was a tremendous step in the right direction. She, along with the elected officials on both sides of the aisle that supported her action to remove these products from the marketplace, deserve our thanks for putting the health of our students first.