High school cheerleaders kicked off squad for vaping, while schools are ‘desperate’ to stop epidemic

Schools are getting desperate to crack down on the vaping epidemic. (Photo: Getty Images)
Schools are getting desperate to crack down on the vaping epidemic. (Photo: Getty Images)

Several high school cheerleaders in Texas were kicked off their squad, in part for “vaping violations.”

According to local news station KXAN, seven cheerleaders were removed from the 20-member team and two quit, after educators became aware of social media photos. “Me holding a vape, and like, that was it,” one Westwood High School student told the station. “And that was I guess enough to be kicked off the team.”

All of the cheerleaders signed the school’s “zero-tolerance policy,” which they claim other athletes did not have to sign. “Just the principal in what they’re teaching their students is like, you mess up once, like, bye, sorry,” another former cheerleader told KXAN.

A copy of the policy was provided to Yahoo Lifestyle by the Round Rock Independent School District. It reads in full, “The use, possession of, or association with tobacco, drugs, and/or alcohol at any time while being a member of the cheerleading team is prohibited. This includes weekends, holidays, and during the summer. An involvement in sexually-related behaviors and/or activities in a public forum, including parties or the Internet is prohibited. Violation of these will result in your removal from the squad. You are expected to comply with all rules of the school and district and laws of our community.”

Westwood High School, part of Round Rock Independent School District, confirmed that seven cheerleaders were removed for violating the code of conduct. Several had committed vaping violations, says the school, while other violations were undisclosed.

“The violations relate to activities in the ‘zero tolerance’ category, including, but not limited to, vaping,” read the district’s statement to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Parents have the option of asking for a grievance hearing if they believe the decision should be reviewed and at least four have done so at this point. Cheerleaders are certainly athletes, however the program is also considered a student leadership organization and standards do differ from those required of other athletic team members. All participants agree to abide by the code of conduct and are aware of the consequences when they begin the program. In fact, try-out criteria include a character component which considers behavior, attendance and teacher recommendations.”

The punishment parallels other measures taken by school across the country to stamp out the use of e-cigarettes, a habit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “fatal.” This week, the CDC declared on its website that 1,479 lung injury cases stemming from vaping (using an e-cigarette) have been reported from 49 states, with 33 deaths confirmed in 24 states.

On Oct. 11, the CDC published a report identifying a mysterious illness called EVALI (a.k.a., “e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury”), which causes coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

One single cause of EVALI has not been identified, but experts are concerned about THC, the ingredient in marijuana that causes psychological effects. “We do know that THC is present in most of the samples tested by FDA to date, and most patients report a history of using THC-containing products,” states the CDC. “The latest national and state findings suggest products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources (e.g. friends, family members, illicit dealers), are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”

In light of the health risks, the CDC advises: “Consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products.”

Schools have been taking the health warnings seriously, churning out extreme consequences for kids caught vaping. A high school in Alabama temporarily removed stall doors in the boy’s bathroom, a popular place for daily vaping. According to television station WAFF, one student was even found passed out in a stall after using an e-cigarette.

A school district in Texas changed its dress code, forcing kids to roll up the sleeves of their sweatshirts to prevent them from hiding e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, clothing company Vaprwear sells hoodies designed for discrete, “hands-free” vaping.

And districts in Ohio and Florida installed “vaping detectors” in schools. The devices in the latter state reportedly send an electronic notification to school officials when the air quality changes due to vaping. Some schools are enforcing suspensions, nicotine testing, and other disciplinary measures, including bans from athletic activities, for students who use e-cigarettes.

On Wednesday, Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and founder and executive director of the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit — a free, online resource to help children and teens stop using nicotine and tobacco — testified before the House Appropriations Committee to share how schools are trying to overcome the issue.

“Schools are desperate and frantically searching for solutions to stop daily e-cigarette use,” Halpern-Felsher tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I know one principal who stopped going into the men’s bathroom because he spent his day filling out [disciplinary] reports for vaping incidents. He told me, ‘I just can’t do it anymore.’ I’m also hearing that students of both sexes are holding their bladders to avoid being associated with vaping in bathrooms.”

According to Halpern-Felsher, teachers are at a loss for how to treat the epidemic. “Many realize that punitive measures like suspension are only sending kids home to vape,” she says. The developmental psychologist advocates in-school suspensions that don’t blemish student records and an educational curriculum that “helps them quit rather than yelling at them.”

But education alone cannot stop kids from vaping, says Halpern-Felsher. “We don’t have FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies like the patch for people under the age of 18, or research on the appropriate dosage to give minors,” she says. “We can’t quantify how much teens are vaping — ask a teen and you’ll hear, ‘I don’t know.’”

E-cigarette companies have introduced low-dosage nicotine products, but Halpern-Felsher says they aren't typically used to stop smoking. “Schools are struggling,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They don’t have the time, money, or energy for this.”

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