AISB, like schools worldwide, is experiencing a vaping problem. According to a 2021 survey, 41.2% of AISB students in grades 8-12 and 17.7% of students in grades 6 and 7 reported that they had tried vaping. These figures should be taken with a grain of salt, and are potentially lower than reality, given many students may be refraining from being truthful and risking getting themselves in trouble. 

Students vaping or using substances of any kind in school impacts school culture, decreases trust and respect between students and teachers, is disruptive, and can even decrease academic performance. In addition to this, when younger students witness older students vaping in public areas such as bathrooms, it can not only make them scared to go to these areas but also sets an example that allows the cycle of the problem to continue. 

The health implications of vaping and other e-cigarettes have been well documented. In most cases, the root of the problem isn’t a lack of education on these implications; smoking is universally acknowledged as being terrible for our health, and yet, even in 2022, 1.1 Billion people smoke on a regular basis. 

So why then, if students are aware of the health implications of vaping, do they continue to do it? Firstly, the liquid in most vapes contains nicotine, a highly addictive substance. The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are severe and can make quitting vaping very difficult, especially when there is no easy access to programs and professional help. 

Secondly, vaping comes along with a particular social appeal. Similarly to how smoking was glamorized in the 90s, with idols such as Kate Moss making cigarettes look like a fashion accessory, vapes, with their sleek, compact design translate well on social media and are easy to disguise. Vaping has also become somewhat of a social practice and is an easy activity for people to do as a group. 

AISB has taken steps to address the problem; AISB’s Secondary Handbook (page 26) includes a section on substance abuse that details the procedure for students found vaping or smoking:

  • On the 1st occasion: parents will be called in to discuss with the student present & student to write a reflection and informed of possible escalation if repeated
  • On the 2nd occasion: internal suspension and behaviour contract will be signed
  • On the 3rd occasion: external suspension and review
  • Next occasion: referral to the board for continued enrollment at AISB

For students, this handbook can be challenging to access. Additionally, this procedure does not take into account the severity of nicotine addiction and the difficulties of quitting. Obviously, parents have a right to know if their child is violating school policy by smoking or vaping in school, however, involving parents in such matters can exacerbate the problem by focusing the blame on the student, rather than the other factors that enable and encourage them to access these products. 

When discussing the topic of vaping, it is worth considering that teenage rebellion is part of the social development of adolescents, and testing authority is a part of the process of forming an identity. It is an arc that has played out in every generation of youth since the beginning of time. Gen Z’s vice of choice may be vaping, but generations of youth past went through the same rebellion, only with different substances. 

The global trend in vaping, or epidemic as some have chosen to classify it, is concerning. However, to act as if Gen Z has an unprecedented problem or lack of self-control is misleading.

At the beginning of the process of drafting this article, it was directed towards criticizing the school’s treatment of the issue of vaping. As it progressed, it became increasingly clear that this issue is too complex to summarize in a single clear point. Perhaps we should consider that in order to address this issue, we must reconsider everything we think we know about it. Only then can we begin to solve it.

Authors