CARMEL, Ind. – The Indiana Youth Tobacco Survey from the Indiana State Department of Health just released its most recent youth tobacco survey, finding that the use of e-cigarettes increased 400 percent among middle and high school students from 2012 to 2019.
Researchers also found that 20 percent of high school students use vaping products regularly.
For the most part, the public is now aware of the dangers of vaping. As of Jan. 21, more than 2,711 people had been hospitalized suffering from lung injuries resulting from vaping. More than 60 people had died. Several of those victims were from Indiana.
In the past, CBS4 has done stories about teenagers smoking e-cigarettes in school. What we didn’t realize is how obvious kids are about their habit.
In November, the CBS4 Problem Solvers team submitted public record requests to more than a dozen school districts in central Indiana. Every district, except MSD Washington Township and Indianapolis Public Schools, responded. Each of the districts that answered admitted to catching students with cigarettes, drugs and vape products on campus. Each of them confirmed an increase in violations when vaping became popular.
Out of the districts that responded, Hamilton Southeastern appeared to have the most tobacco policy violations. More than 328 students have been caught with tobacco on campus since 2016; 266 were from the high school, 59 were from junior high and three of the students were from the intermediate level.
Ryan Taylor, director of staff and students, was not surprised.
“We have 21,000 students in our district, so we are also aware that we have a lot of kids,” he said.
Taylor did not try to make excuses, though.
“This is serious,” he said. “I don’t think they understand the true health risks.”
Taylor believes part of the reason Hamilton Southeastern school officials have been able to catch so many students smoking on campus is because they are one of the few districts that have an anonymous reporting program. Students can text an adult when they find something suspicious or are concerned about a situation at their school.
“Our kids are telling us about it,” he explained. “They’re giving us names, locations and where we can go to help.”
Taylor and Dean Greg Miller showed CBS4 the stash of items they have confiscated so far this year. It was a grocery bag full of e-cigarettes and vaping products.
“And look at these things,” Miller pointed out. “They are marketed toward kids 100 percent.”
Miller showed CBS4 e-cigarettes that looked USBs, flash drives and real pens.
“This one here has 78 percent THC. A lot of kids that have never done this--the first time they do it--their body can’t take it. After that happens, they become ill,” he said. “We have had to send several students to the hospital because of that.”
Hamilton Southeastern is cracking down. Fishers police ticket students and send them to court even on their first offense. Still, Miller said they have had to expel students for repeatedly breaking the rules.
Meanwhile, students who don’t vape are growing tired of their peers risking their health. Many are now banding together and urging their friends and classmates to stop smoking.
“We’ve got get our message out there,” one student said.
Groups of teenagers from Columbus and Madison County gathered at the statehouse in January to brainstorm how they could stop the dangerous and deadly trend. One group, called “Breathe Easy Hamilton County,” sat down with CBS4. They painted a vivid picture of what it is like to walk the halls of Carmel, Westfield and Guerin Catholic High Schools.
“People have done it in my class while I was there,” one student said.
“I just keep getting pressured to do it,” another added.
The students said that vaping happens everyday on campus, often in the bathroom where there are no teachers and no cameras.
“People were hiding them in the ceilings and in the sinks,” Isabel Jensen explained. “They were breaking stuff so they could hide them.”
Jensen said people charge their Juuls out in the open in class. In the past, she added, teachers have confiscated the e-cigarettes but returned the items to 18-year old students at the end of the day.
“Just like a cell phone,” she said.
Gaberiel Anderson, who goes to Westfield High School, said a lot of students buy their products on eBay and Amazon. Others get their vape pens from older students.
“Because of social media, people have access and ways of getting this,” Lucy Schenk from Guerin Catholic High School.
When asked what their teachers say about the vaping epidemic, the students said most of the staff “laughs it off.”
“Most of the teachers make fun of it,” they said. “If a kid goes to the bathroom, they’re like ‘Oh, are you going to go JUUL or something?’ They just make a joke.”
None of the students felt like they had received the proper education or consistent reminders that vaping was against the rules and unhealthy. Many teens, they said, act as though they turn to vaping as a stress reliever. They have claimed it takes the edge off.
Carmel Clay school officials told CBS4 while it no longer has a DARE program, it relies on its school resource officers to educate students about vaping.
Other districts, like Greenfield, installed vape detectors to prevent kids from smoking on campus. Noblesville plans to install some at the middle and high school levels later this year.
The question remains, though, whether any of those measures will make a difference.
Hamilton Southeastern’s director and dean hope parents will get more involved in the conversation.
“Look in their backpacks and see what they’re doing. Look in their rooms when they are not there,” Miller said.
It’s why they decided to host an open vaping forum for parents and students.
CBS4 asked how parents can be most effective when talking to their teens. “Breathe Easy Hamilton County” said adults need to start the conversation young and early.
“Parents need to educate themselves before they educate their children,” Schenk said. “I think if parents don’t know what they’re talking about and they just hear it’s bad, their kids aren’t going to believe them.”
“Just have a conversation,” Jensen added. “Not in a ‘I’m telling you not to do this’ kind of way because that’s what they’re going to rebel against. Work together with kids to understand the risks.”
Districts at a glance
- 48 tobacco policy infractions since 2016
- 198 tobacco policy infractions since 2016 (47 at the middle school, 130 at high school)
- Since 2016, the district has had zero tobacco policy infractions at the elementary level
- At the high school level, the district had 20 incidents with students involving cigarettes or chewing tobacco and 50 incidents of students vaping since 2016
- Interestingly, since 2018 there was only one incident that involved cigarettes or chewing tobacco. The rest have involved vaping
- At the middle school level, we've had 19 incidents since 2016 and all were vaping
- 23 tobacco policy infractions since 2016
- 9 instances in which a staff member caught students smoking
- 92 instances in which a staff member caught students vaping
Infractions by grade at Decatur
- Elementary: 7
- Middle School: 30
- High School: 55
- 328 tobacco policy infractions since 2016
Infractions by grade at Hamilton Southeastern
- Intermediate: 3
- Junior High: 55
- High School: 266
- 29 tobacco policy infractions since 2016.
- 5 instances in which a staff member caught students smoking
- 12 instances in which a staff member caught students vaping
- 168 tobacco policy infractions since 2016
Infractions by grade at Noblesville
- 7th: 12
- 8th: 23
- 9th: 37
- 10th: 37
- 11th: 34
- 12th: 25
- 125 tobacco policy infractions since 2016
- 125 tobacco policy infractions since 2016
- Data unavailable on how many times district officials or teachers have caught students smoking cigarettes
- Data unavailable on how many times district officials or teachers have caught students vaping
Infractions by grade at Warren Township:
- Grades K-4: 12
- Grades 5-8: 30
- Grades:9-12: 83
- 14 in-school suspensions for tobacco use
- 30 out-of-school suspensions for tobacco use