Red Deer high schools considering fines to stem ‘epidemic’ of student vaping

They are considering applying city no-smoking bylaw on school grounds

Red Deer public and Catholic high schools are banding together to crack down on an “epidemic” of student vaping by exploring prohibitive fines as well as suspensions.

As of June 1, students caught vaping on any Red Deer high school grounds could face a double punishment. As well as being kicked out of class, they might also have to pay a municipal fine under the city’s public smoking bylaw.

A first offence could net a one-day suspension and a $200 fine, issued by the City of Red Deer. A second offence could mean a three-day suspension and a $500 fine.

And students caught vaping on school grounds for a third time could be slapped with a five-day school suspension and a fine of up to $2,500.

Bruce Buruma, community relations director for Red Deer Public Schools, said education officials are in talks with the city to see how they can make the enforcement happen. What’s still being worked out is how the smoking bylaw can be applied on school grounds — whether by peace officers or school officials.

Red Deer Catholic school officials expect to release more information on the policy shortly.

Reaction from students who were vaping in front of the Memorial Centre on Tuesday ranged from anger to disbelief.

High financial penalties are sure to “strike fear into many hearts,” predicted Lindsay Thurber High School student Devin Schawandt, who noted most young people don’t have a lot of money.

His Grade 12 classmate, Max Schultz, suggested it’s “not a big deal,” since Lindsay Thurber students can continue to vape in their own vehicles if parked in the Memorial Centre parking lot.

But this is absolutely not OK, according to Buruma.

He noted the Memorial Centre lot, as well as the empty lot north of Camille J. Lerouge School, is under the “care and control” of his district during school hours.

Vaping inside a car is no different than smoking marijuana within a vehicle parked in a public place — it’s not allowed under city bylaws, he added, noting schools will be driving home this point with their students.

Red Deer schools have had to get tougher on vaping, since it’s the top reason for student suspensions, said Buruma.

With vaping puffers now the size of USB sticks and emitting no smoke or odour, students are even sneaking puffs of nicotine in class.

Unlike cigarettes, there are still no restrictions on e-cigarettes being marketed to young people, with tutti frutti and other candy flavours offered along with the nicotine. Buruma added that what was once a smoking cessation device, has become an addiction of its own.

Red Deer high schools are acting with the city’s bylaw enforcement department to curb vape use. The U.S. surgeon general has declared e-cigarette use among youth an “epidemic.”

Vapes contain a large amount of nicotine, and “nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug,” according to America’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. Research suggests it can put young people at risk of other forms of addiction.

The City of Red Deer has issued this statement: “The practice of ‘vaping’ … falls within the definition of smoking under the City’s Smoke-Free Bylaw, and is, therefore, prohibited in public places.”

Vaping is prohibited in public buildings and within 10 metres of playgrounds, seasonal skating rinks, skate parks, sports fields, water spray parks, or toboggan hills.

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Vapes are now the size of USB sticks, emitting no smoke or odour. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

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