This student resource officer is making anti-vaping efforts a priority. Here’s how.

After months of mounting suspensions at Highland’s middle school and high school due to students vaping, the school board got a better look at how and where it’s occurring from the student resource officer who’s cracking down on the bad habit.

Officer Chris Flake and Highland High School Principal Chris Becker spoke at a recent school board meeting about the mounting vaping problem at schools in Highland, the Metro East and nationwide. Flake, who is an officer with the Highland Police Department and a resource officer at the school district, led the conversation.

Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are electronic devices used to inhale aerosol or “vapors.” The devices hit the market in 2007 and have grown in popularity every year since.

In the past year at Highland High School, 46 students in total have been disciplined in some form for vaping, up from 33 in March. Forty-one of those students were given a citation from the city, which can come with a fine of roughly $150. That’s on top of several days of suspension.

Becker said compared to many surrounding area school districts, that number isn’t as bad as it could be. But the dangers and possible addiction that comes with vaping are still cause for concern.

Flake brought in more than six types of vapes students have been caught using in schools. The vape sizes varied and some even are equipped with USB ports for charging. He said size can matter when it comes to vapes — the smaller they are, the easier they are to hide.

Day-to-day, Flake said, he works with administrators and teachers to catch and prevent students’ vape usage. He said talking to students and holding assemblies is a major part the school’s prevention plan, but another major part is seeking out students who are using the smoking devices.

Most vaping in schools takes place between class periods in restrooms, where administrators and teachers are trying to make themselves more present. However, Flake said, it happens in the locker rooms too and in some cases, even in class.

Flake said it doesn’t take much to vape inside the classroom since teachers are typically distracted at some point during the lesson. He also demonstrated how easy it can be to hide a smaller vape by placing it under his watch, hidden by his sleeve.

In 2018, the percentage of 12th grade students who reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled from 11 percent to 21 percent, according to a University of Michigan Monitoring the Future study. The increase was twice as large as the previous record for largest-ever increase in addictive substance use from 12th graders.

The Monitoring the Future study found there were at least 1.3 million additional adolescent vapers in 2018 compared to 2017, setting the record of the biggest spike in an adolescent addiction in the study’s 44-year span.

That’s reflective of what’s happening in Highland. Becker said addiction is a major concern. He said many students don’t understand how addictive nicotine can be when they start to vape and often don’t realize that it’s dangerous.

In addition to the possible health issues vaping can bring, long-term addiction is proving to be a new challenge for educators. According to Yale Medicine, most teens who vape aren’t aware that vaping can be addictive.

The news isn’t all doom and gloom though, Flake said. One improvement he’s seeing at the middle school are students letting administrators and teachers know when a classmate is vaping. He said they often report because they’re worried about other student’s health. He said that’s a direct result of talking to students about vaping and increasing their awareness.

Becker said all in all, at the high school and middle school, awareness is improving. Each day brings a challenge, however.

“We feel like we’re making positive efforts,” Becker said. “But it is something we’re constantly dealing with.”