Litchfield Public Schools face issues with student tobacco use, but not tobacco in the traditional sense.
Students vaping is something teachers are dealing with, and the resources, as far as addiction is concerned, are limited, Litchfield High School Principal Jason Michels said.
“From 20 years ago to today, the types of drugs and how they are delivered to kids are different today,” Michels said.
Michels said the largest issue Litchfield Public Schools faces is the increase in student e-cigarette use.
“I do think we have a number of younger kids vaping,” Michels said. “It’s experimental to kids, and vaping hasn’t been around that long. So we don’t know much about about the adverse health effects.”
Litchfield Public Schools Superintendent Beckie Simenson said that vaping is not portrayed appropriately in the media.
“We really don’t know the effects of vaping,” Simenson said. “During student advisory at the high school, we talk to students about what vaping is, what to do if someone asks you to vape and what is in a vape pen.”
Michels said the issue is more kids are using e-cigarettes because it is seen as more socially acceptable than traditional combustible cigarettes.
“There are so many misconceptions kids have about vaping,” Michels said. “We are introducing advisory programs into our curriculum.”
Litchfield is not seeing vaping so much in the elementary levels, but more so at the middle and high schools. The district implemented preventative education about tobacco products and drugs for third and fourth grade students and more intervention curriculum to middle and high school students. Programs like DARE and the new school resource officer have provided students more access to drug and alcohol education.
Michels believes that the accessibility of e-cigarettes is widespread. The Minnesota Department of Health’s Annual Youth Tobacco Survey suggested that rural teens are more likely to start smoking early, more often and use e-cigarettes. A 2016 survey of Meeker County students by the Minnesota Department of Education suggested that about 4 percent of eighth-graders, boys and girls, had used e-cigarettes one or two days in the last 30 days; 10 percent of ninth-graders; and 9 percent of 11th-graders. A study by MDH published in 2019 suggests that rural students are three times more likely to vape than metro-area students, with boys making up the majority of e-cigarette users.
“Among students who reported smoking cigarettes within the past 30 days, 45.7 percent of rural students reported they were age 12 or younger when they first tried smoking cigarettes,” the report said.
Neighboring McLeod County’s data from the same 2016 MDE survey suggests that 21 percent of 11th-graders used e-cigarettes within the last 30 days.
According to Michels there have been significantly more citations issued through the Minnesota State High School League for tobacco-related violations within Litchfield schools.
“Some don’t know how easy it is for kids to get a vape pen,” Michels said.