Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools trustees heard about the school district’s approach to dealing with vaping from Don Balcombe, assistant superintendent, at their Nov. 6 education committee meeting. (Black Press file)

Discipline for vaping like ‘whack-a-mole,’ says Nanaimo school district exec

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools assistant superintendent says focus is on prevention

Discipline and enforcement are not effective approaches to prevent student vaping at Nanaimo-Ladysmith schools, according to a district executive.

Tobacco product usage, including e-cigarettes, is banned on all Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools facilities, and in a presentation Nov. 6, Don Balcombe, assistant superintendent, told education committee members that it is easier to catch students smoking traditional cigarettes. Catching students vaping is like a whack-a-mole game and a losing cause, he said.

“If we say, ‘We’re going to catch you if you vape,’ kids [hide the devices] … you can’t see it because it’s an aerosol,” said Balcombe. “It doesn’t rise in a puff of smoke. It smells like watermelon, lemon, like their chewing gum, which also smells like watermelon and lemon. So you can’t enforce it from a ‘do it and we’ll catch you and we’ll punish you.’ It just is not possible. They can conceal it in seconds.”

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The district will continue enforcing its policy, according to Balcombe, but prevention and harm reduction is a better approach for the district to deal with the matter. On the prevention side, the district is working to get up-to-date information sharing for students, parents and staff regarding vaping and is trying to dispel the myth that vaping is harmless, Balcombe said.

“We’re trying to get resources down at the Grade 4, 5, 6 level to start that conversation around, ‘it’s not healthy’ and the preventative measures to do that and make kids build some resiliency and awareness for parents,” said Balcombe.

In addition, Balcombe said the school district communications department has put together a poster for schools warning of vaping.

“Instead of the soft-sell approach, we’re going a little bit more on the hard sell like they did with tobacc0, you know, tobacco causes cancer,” said Balcombe. “We’re saying vaping is not harmless and so we’re outlining some of the heavy metals and chemicals that get into them. The lung issues they have and also the fact that a lot of companies are being bought up or being invested in by big tobacco.”

In terms of harm reduction, in-service training for counsellors and principals to learn about how to help addicted teens reduce and quit vaping will also be developed, Balcombe said.

The school board previously approved a motion directing Charlene McKay, board chairperson, to pen a letter to the provincial government to address vaping.


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