Fairfax County changes its response after reported student vaping soars

Health concerns around vaping are not just a national conversation, it’s a daily reality for D.C.-area school systems. Fairfax County, Virginia, is changing its policy to provide support for kids having trouble putting the e-cigarette down.

If a student was caught smoking on campus in the past, perhaps they would have faced consequences, such as limited participation in extracurricular activities or sports. But now, there is a more comprehensive response in Fairfax County schools to address the root of a growing problem: addiction to nicotine.

“We think that the vast majority of these incidents are due to vaping and e-cigarettes, not due to traditional tobacco products,” said Lucy Caldwell, with Fairfax County Public Schools, of the sharp increase in reported incidents.

School system data shows that in the 2016-17 school year, 69 students were identified as having tobacco-related substance abuse. “And then, in a year, it jumped to more than 400. And then, last school year, it was more than 600, and that’s probably the tip of the iceberg,” Caldwell said.

Along with distributing materials about the dangers of addiction and the health-concerns about vaping that have made headlines recently, the school system is hiring support staff.

“So we do have additional counselors and substance abuse specialists this year, and they’re actually embedded into the school system, so we’re there to provide support and help for people who might need it,” Caldwell said.

Education around the health perils of using nicotine start in county school curriculum in the second grade. However, Caldwell said many students may not realize they are addicted and may misunderstand that vaping is putting nicotine into their bodies.

She said it’s paramount for parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of vaping so the message is continued at home.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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