Evanston Township High School reports that nine students have been caught vaping on school property this year. District 65 reports six students. The Evanston Heath Department cites numbers showing Evanston kids vape at lower rates than others in the state. This information could leave residents wondering, “Does Evanston really vape less?” 

It depends who you ask.

The RoundTable heard from several in the community after publishing an article “Vaping Not a Big Problem at ETHS” on the front page of the April 19 issue. In that article, ETHS administration asserted that students are not openly vaping in supervised areas and, while keeping their eyes open, the school is not seeing evidence of a national vaping epidemic. School District 65’s response was similar.   

Via email, District 65 Superintendent Paul Goren told the RoundTable, “In the last six months we have had six reported incidences of vaping across the District. We are gathering information on the magnitude of the issue in our schools.”

Erin Fisher, a public health educator for the City of Evanston, told the RoundTable that teen vaping numbers are currently lower in Evanston that elsewhere in Illinois, but rising. “ETHS students seem to be using e-cigarettes less than their counterparts in other areas,” she said. “According to 2016 Illinois Youth Survey results, 8.7% of ETHS students use e-cigarettes, lower than the State of Illinois average (14.4% of students). Although all tobacco use decreased by 37.5% from 2015 to 2017 among ETHS students, e-cigarette use alone first decreased from 2015 (15.3% of students) to 2016 (8.7% of students), but increased again in 2017 to 11.9%.” 

Information shared with the RoundTable by ETHS students, however, seems to point to some obvious problems. 

One ETHS student said in a letter to the RoundTable, “Multiple times a week, I walk into a school bathroom to either find people hitting a Juul or smell the off-sweet scent of cotton candy or wintergreen. Vaping is as much of a problem as it is nationwide. I can guarantee that 9 of 10 people at ETHS know someone who vapes, and around half know where to get a vape or vape cartridges.”

More than one student told the RoundTable that they have seen their peers be as bold as to charge vaping paraphernalia using their school-issued computers during class since some vaping devises resemble flash drives and can go unnoticed by teachers.

So What’s Being Done?

The City, District 202 and District 65 are monitoring the situation and are looking for ways to provide more education. 

“Peer Services, the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition Tobacco committee, the Evanston Health and Human Services Department, and the Evanston Health Advisory Council are working to decrease tobacco use in Evanston through education, awareness campaigns, and encouraging policy change,” said Ms. Fisher.

Keith Robinson, ETHS Assistant Principal of Education Services, told the RoundTable for the April 19 article that there is “an educational component” to dealing with students caught vaping and that supports are constantly evolving to target needed interventions. 

Dr. Goren said District 65 “will work with principals, educators and staff to address this as part of the healthy choices we encourage students to take.” 

At least one school in District 65 has already gone a step further. On April 20, an email from Haven Middle School Principal Kathleen Roberson to parents served to “share information regarding a trend in schools across the nation, including Haven: e-cigarettes and vaping.” The email also said e-cigarette use among teenagers is increasing, “is a challenge Haven is currently facing” and that the school’s initial steps in dealing with this challenge, “include teaching our students and informing our families about this trend.”

Current Lawsuit

The health implications of vaping are not completely known, but recent studies are showing reason for concern. Ms. Fisher said there is a “growing body of evidence showing detrimental effects on developing brains, association with certain cancers, the presence of toxic metals in e-cigarette vapors, and a link between teens using e-cigarettes and increased likelihood of smoking cigarettes as adults.”

This evidence is so convincing that on March 27, several public health organizations filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration for announcing it would delay until 2021/2022 its review of e-cigarettes. There has been no official comment on the lawsuit by the FDA. 

Is It ‘Right Under Their Noses’?

“Ignoring or misinterpreting the problem is harming us, the students,” said one ETHS student in a letter to the RoundTable. “And although I don’t vape, I know who to talk to, what smoke shops don’t ID, and the going rates for buying cartridges. And that’s not because I’m ‘street.’ It’s because the school lets the vaping problem go right under their noses. They must be at least a little more aware than what they’re letting on, but they’re not doing anything about it. Vape pen and cartridge dealing happens before, during, and after school on school property. Vaping is such a part of the ETHS community and culture at this point that it’s simply inconceivable they don’t know what’s going on.”