School district to randomly test some students for nicotine

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A Nebraska school district will test students for nicotine, amid a growing “epidemic” of e-cigarettes in one of its schools.

Fairbury Public Schools, a three-school district of roughly 930 students about 50 miles southwest of Lincoln, approved the measure last week to add the substance to its list of banned substances for the tests randomly administered to the 387 students at Fairbury Junior-Senior High School, where vaping has skyrocketed, Superintendent Stephen Grizzle told the Lincoln Journal Star.

“Vaping and smoking in our view is reaching epidemic proportions,” Grizzle told the newspaper. “It’s just a way we can deter kids from potentially being addicted to nicotine. Since smoking and using vaping products are against our policies, it makes sense to include that.”

Any student at the junior-senior high who currently takes part in extracurricular activities – about 60 percent of the student body — must submit urine samples to be tested for illegal and performance-enhancing drugs. That policy has been in effect for two years, Grizzle said, and will expand to include nicotine in the fall.

About 10 percent of those students end up submitting samples if their student ID number is chosen in a lottery.

A failed test can lead to a 10-day ban from extracurricular activities like sports teams and band practice. Grizzle said district officials made the move after e-cigarette use reached a “tipping point” last year.

“We want it to be a deterrent,” Grizzle said of the new tests. “Kids are under a whole lot of pressure to experiment with drugs or nicotine.”

E-cigarette use among high school students nationwide has increased from 1.5% in 2011 to 20.8% last year and from 0.6% to 4.9% among middle schoolers during that same span, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s equivalent to 1 in 5 high school students, or more than 3.05 million, according to CDC statistics.

“Although e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers if used as a complete substitute for combustible tobacco smoking, the use of any form of tobacco product among youths, including e-cigarettes, is unsafe,” the CDC said in November. “The Surgeon General has concluded that e-cigarette use among youths and young adults is of public health concern; exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.”

In nearby Lancaster County, the youth vaping rate increased to 27.4% this year, up from 23.8% in 2015, a county health official told the Journal Star. The nicotine testing program to combat that rising figure will cost roughly $900 annually and district officials are also considering to install Wi-Fi-equipped sensors in bathrooms to detect e-cigarette vapor, Grizzle said.

“It really helps the school to become a partner with the parents in helping deter kids from trying drugs and whatnot,” he told the newspaper. “We are pleased with the community buy-in. I think parents know we are trying to be as proactive as possible, so I think that helps.”

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