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LOSD discusses policies on drugs, tobacco and alcohol use in schools, as Juul use rises

The Lake Oswego School District and School Board are working on new guidelines to prohibit all use of tobacco products, alcohol, drugs and inhalants.

These things are currently all prohibited on and around school grounds, but the policy would standardize their prohibition under a single policy.

The first reading of the policy was at the March 18 school board meeting, when Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Schiele presented it to the board.

"Student possession, use, distribution or sale of tobacco products, inhalant delivery systems, alcohol or unlawful drugs, including drug paraphernalia or any substance purported to be an unlawful drug, on or near any district property or grounds, including parking lots, or while participating in school-sponsored activities is prohibited and will result in disciplinary action," read the proposed policy.

"It says that we won't allow it, and there will be consequences if you are caught, and parents will be notified," said Schiele.

The combination of the policies follows a recommendation from the Oregon School Board Association. School board member Liz Hartman said it's important to consistently review and update any district policies. "A lot can change in as little as 24 months," she said. "That's why we make updates."

One recent change in tobacco use among teenagers is the invention and subsequent popularity of Juul. The Juul is a small and concealable vaping device (or "e-cigarette") intended for adult nicotine users. The Juul is not much bigger than a USB flash drive, and the flavored nicotine vapor comes in flavors like mint and mango. The vapor refill cartridges are even smaller than the Juul itself, making them easier for students to conceal. Each cartridge contains the same amount of nicotine of one pack of cigarettes, according to the company's website.

Additionally, the vapor exhaled by a Juul user is much less pungent than traditional smoking methods, like cigarettes, so it is not as noticeable to use.

These are the reasons that Juul has become trendy among high school students in Lake Oswego, and across the country.

Lake Oswego High School principal Rollin Dickinson said he and his administration became aware of Juul about three years ago. "A lot of our initial efforts were intended to raise awareness with parents and staff that these discrete devices that looked and smelled innocuous enough were actually harmful and highly addictive smoking devices," said Dickinson. "We shared information and pictures in newsletters, invited (a police officer) in to speak with our staff, not to mention other education efforts."

In November 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new findings from the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) showing that more than 3.6 million middle and high school students were current (past 30 day) e-cigarette users in 2018, a dramatic increase of more than 1.5 million students since the prior year.

Additionally, the findings led the NYTS to conclude that, "The uptick in e-cigarette use has led overall tobacco product use to increase by 38 percent among high school students (to 27.1 percent) and by 29 percent among middle school students (to 7.2 percent) in the last

year, reversing the positive decline seen over the last few years."

Hartman told the Review that she is concerned that students are using tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and mind-altering drugs to cope with stress. "That's why it's important to have more counselors in the schools, because the more the students can talk to someone about what they're going through, the less they'll feel the need to mask their feelings with drugs," she said.

Hartman believes that the school board and school administrators can only do so much to help curb drug use in the schools. "I think our schools try really hard to control things, especially within the schools," Hartman said. "But we don't have control over what they do after school or the things they can get access to at home."

Dickinson said that while LOHS has taken significant steps to help dissuade students from Juul and nicotine use in general, student use continues. "This is a widespread issue, not just a local one. I obviously worry about young people becoming addicted to nicotine and being exploited by companies that don't really care about them," he said. "I also worry about the patterns of behavior, the levels of risk, and the economies that emerge around the procurement and use of illegal substances.

Hartman suggested that there is a need for more parent education in the district. "Parents need to know how to talk to their kids about these things from a young age," she said. "There should be education available for elementary and middle school parents."

Dickinson agreed. "Having parents and staff be able to identify the (Juul) devices really helped," he said.

At the March 18 meeting, board member Rob Wagner asked for more time to review the proposed policy and work with district officials to make sure it's as effective as possible. "I just would like to have a much more thorough opportunity to discuss this with the district," he said.

One of the factors he cited as important was looking at "whether or not punitive measures are actually helping in terms of the scourge of drug problems right now," said Wagner.

The school board will continue to discuss the issue of Juul, and the policy prohibiting use of tobacco products, inhalant delivery systems, alcohol or unlawful drugs at their upcoming school board meetings. The next board meeting is scheduled for April 8 at 6 p.m.

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