LACONIA — The trend of young people who are vaping has become a concern to educators across the country, including at Laconia High School, where detectors have been placed in restrooms to catch students in the act of using e-cigarettes.
Principal Mike Fredericksen said students found in possession of any tobacco product on campus are subject to disciplinary action.
“It’s an issue that all schools are struggling with now,” he said. “Some people don’t realize the potential danger with it. Education is the first step.”
Electronic cigarettes are small devices that heat a liquid containing nicotine, but also can be used to deliver marijuana or other substances. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 450 possible cases of lung illness and five deaths associated with e-cigarette products.
Tyler Richter, a senior at Laconia High School, is working on a project to request the Laconia City Council to increase the age limit for buying these products from 18 to 21.
He said the detectors seem to have reduced vaping on campus, compared to last year, when school restrooms were crowded with people vaping.
“Last year it was unbelievable,” he said. “I’d leave a class and go in to the bathroom and there would be 15 people in there. This year, they are cracking down.”
In a letter to the editor, Richter said vaping has become a major problem in schools.
“Some of my best friends are getting addicted to vapor nicotine products at such an early age,” he said. “The addiction is so bad that they can’t even make it through a whole class period without having to leave to go vape. This vaping is affecting kids’ ability to learn and the safety of our youth in Laconia.”
Kelly Gaspa, assistant director at the Partnership for Public Health, said her organization would like to see a statewide increase to 21 for those wishing to buy tobacco products.
The organization also supports local efforts to make it harder for young people to get their hands on vaping products.
“City and towns don't want to wait and are moving to keep youth and families safe,” she said.
Dover and Keene have raised to 21 the minimum age for buying e-cigarettes.
At a time when cigarette use is decreasing, e-cigarette use has become widespread.
According to the 2017 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered every two years by the CDC, 23.8 percent of New Hampshire students reported using an electronic vapor product within the 30 days preceding the survey. Only 7.8 percent of students said they had smoked a cigarette within that same time frame.
“We are building an entire new crop of users who would never otherwise have picked up this product,” Gaspa said.