Montclair students caught vaping on school grounds will now be subject to the same treatment as students suspected of being high on drugs or alcohol.

Students will be sent to the nurse’s office to have their vital signs checked and, after calling parents, will immediately be sent to off-site clinic for drug screening. Upon returning to school, the student will be mandated to meet with a student assistance counselor.

The popularity of teen vaping is on the increase according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Vaping is the use of an electronic cigarette or similar electronic smoking device.

Andrew Evangelista, the district’s mental health coordinator, said the emphasis in Montclair’s policy is on educating students and looking out for their well-being, rather than trying to “catch” them or punish them.

“The bottom line is health and safety for our students,” Evangelista said.

New popular devices

The manufacturing of JUUL, a vaping device that looks like a flash-drive and fits in the palm of your hand, is making it easy to conceal vaping - even in the classroom.

In a recent nation-wide survey, teens are twice as likely to smoke an e-cigarette than a cigarette. Use of e-cigarettes was 9.5 percent among 8th graders, 14.0 percent among 10th graders, and 16.2 percent among 12 graders.

Furthermore, teen e-cigarette users are more likely to start smoking, with 30.7 percent of e-cig users started smoking within 6 months, while 8.1 percent of non-users started smoking.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse study, most teens think e-cigs are safe, with 66 percent contending they contain only flavoring and 13.7 percent saying they don’t know what’s in them. Manufacturers don’t have to report e-cig ingredients, so users don’t know what’s actually in them, according to health professionals.

JUUL flavors such as butterscotch, mango, marshmallow and cotton candy appeal to teens, while the cost of $40 for a starter kit, and refills equivalent to 4 packs of cigarettes at $7 appeals to their pocketbooks.

“Kids think that vaping is an alternative to smoking cigarettes,” Evangelista said. The flavor packs contain nicotine, tar and other chemicals, and there are concerns that the flavorings in e-cigarettes have levels of chemicals that are far too toxic for teens to handle, he said.

Evangelist has suggested the town have conversations with vape shops owners and other stores that sell e-cigarettes and accessories, to make sure they are not selling the devices to minors. Although purchasers must be 21 to buy them in New Jersey, the devices are widely available on the Web and eBay.

Why the new policy?

The district updated its policy on substance abuse to include vaping, after multiple parents reached out to the schools.

“Honestly, my knowledge on the subject of vaping is pretty limited, but I know that a lot of students do vape and this new policy will probably cut the numbers down,” said student Hana Ackelsberg.

Corinna Davis, also a student, said that she has several friends who engage in vaping.

In January, Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak sent out a letter to parents advising them of the pending changes in the school’s substance abuse policy, as well as what to look for in signs of vaping in their children. Two times as many boys use e-cigs as girls.

Upcoming event

On May 5, Montclair schools will host a panel talk with former Denver Bronco Vince Johnson, who will talk about his own issues with addiction, and former Winston man David Goerlitz, who later quit smoking and became an especially vocal anti-smoking advocate. The program is aimed at helping parents talk about drug use and tobacco use with the teens. Vaping will be one of the topics on the agenda.

“I’m going to be disappointed if we don’t get at least 1,000 people at this event,” said Evangelista.

The event will also give families the chance to talk with addiction resource providers.