BOZEMAN – A recent study by a nationwide survey shows alarming data; the use of e-cigarettes and vapes is on the rise across the country.
Bozeman schools are seeing that, too, with a disturbing increase.
Officials say 43 percent of kids between middle and high school have at least tried vaping once.
The 2017 Youth Behavioral Study is the most recent report, covering grades six through 12.
With thousands of kids in Bozeman schools, 43 percent is a number that those like School Resource Sergeant Hal Richardson say is scary.
“This is something that’s just really out of control,” said Richardson.
It’s a smoke that can often go undetected, without scent and with a deceptive amount of tobacco within the fumes, and it’s showing up in Bozeman schools.
“It’s one of the things that we deal with the most in the schools,” said Richardson. “The kids are bringing the devices to school. They are using them in school.”
Officer Richardson said it is an epidemic.
“It’s gotten to the point with all of the literature that’s coming out about them, which has led to the school district putting out these letters to parents, advising them of the dangers of these products,” said Richardson.
Officer Richardson said 43 percent of surveyed students (who say they have tried vapes or e-cigarettes at least once) across Bozeman schools is a high number.
When you look at those numbers outside of the percentage, though, he said that is even more alarming.
“When you are talking about this population, 2,100-plus kids, you know, that’s like 1,000 kids,” said Richardson.
And that’s just between the middle school and the high school.
With some products coming in small, sometimes flash-drive sized packages, Officer Richardson added they are easy to hide.
“Even in law enforcement, with some of the stuff that we’ve seen, we’re surprised at the way they look and how much there are in the schools,” said Richardson.
Police say parents need to be on the lookout for a list of warning signs.
They say vapes do not have the typical cigarette smell, instead, coming in fruity flavors.
Officer Richardson also said parents should watch for their kids having small pen-like objects that may carry liquid.
And, importantly, a change in behavior.
“Kids are going to get really addicted to these things really fast just because of the high levels of nicotine that they are ingesting so I would just be on the lookout for maybe a mood change,” said Richardson.
He added it is prevention that schools across the country can only do so much to enforce.
“If you are under the age of 18 and you are caught with any sort of e-cigarette vape product, we can give a citation for a minor in possession of tobacco product. It’s under the same heading as if a student was caught with a pack of cigarettes or a can of chew,” said Richardson. “If you are older than 18, they are still not allowed on school property.”
Richardson said it’s a conversation that needs to start and end at home.
“We need parents and adults of our students to be more engaged with this and help us crack down on this because this is the cigarette smoking of our generation and it took decades and decades before we realized that cigarette smoking had such adverse consequences to our health,” said Richardson. “We have a chance here to be able to maybe correct that.”
Police said the 2018 survey should be released in the near future and only expect the numbers to climb.
Reporting by Cody Boyer for MTN News