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Montana Principals: Vaping impacting our kids, schools

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As principals we strive to ensure our schools are engaging, safe and healthy environments that promote learning. However, youth vaping in Montana is threatening our kids’ health and safety and creating unnecessary barriers to academic success.

Montana has a serious problem with youth e-cigarette use. Our most current Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey data tell us 26% of our high school students currently vape and nearly half (48%) of them have tried vaping. We are encouraged that most Montana youth report they do not vape, but we are very concerned about the health and well-being of the one in four students who do.

While youth vaping is a discipline problem that can disrupt learning in our schools, it’s become an addiction problem too. Like all other tobacco products, electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive drug that can harm the developing brain. Nicotine impacts the portions of the brain that control attention and learning; its use can increase symptoms of anxiety and amplify depression. Nicotine use in adolescence may also increase the risk for future addiction to other drugs. It’s also important to be aware that some principals report kids are vaping marijuana and other drugs, in addition to tobacco products.

Devices that show up in our schools come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, many that resemble school supplies like highlighters, markers and USB drives. It can be very difficult to identify what has been referred to as stealth vaping in our buildings.

We are concerned that these highly addictive products come in flavors especially attractive to kids. Flavors like cotton candy, mango pineapple ice, skittles and blue raspberry are hooking our kids and impacting their lives physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and financially.

Principals, teachers and counselors are connecting kids to resources to help address an addiction to electronic cigarettes. Quitting resources like the state of Montana’s My Life My Quit website ( are free, confidential and specifically designed for youth. We know that prevention is key. We urge parents to talk to their kids about the harmful risks of vaping; you have a great influence on the healthy choices your kids are making.

In short, the notion that vaping is somehow safe and harmless to youth is false and Montana’s standing as the state with the second highest incidence of youth e-cigarette use calls for corrective action. We urge Montana decision makers at the state and local levels to help us address this problem and put the best practices for youth tobacco use prevention into action.

This column was signed by 44 Montana school principals including Cory Beckham, Arlee Junior/Senior High School, Arlee; Kevin Kenelty, Ronan High School, Ronan.

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