Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, November 18, 2019.

Many are welcoming the proposed new measures on vaping products. Others are resenting the tax hike (money grab, they say) and the reduced nicotine content might just drive them back to smoking, they argue. Let’s hope not.

Either way, it will be interesting to see if young people will vape less, or at all. Many still do, and age makes no difference. Nor does the location, as some kids vape right inside schools.

I am referring to schools in my column mostly because it is impossible to control what kids are doing during their time at home or while roaming the town.

To their credit, many students (mostly older ones) quit vaping since the news of ill health effects have surfaced. But then there are also many students who continue to vape and there are, sadly, enough social media influencers who keep the momentum going, adverse health effects notwithstanding. 

That is bad, but then again, that’s just a facet. While some take their vape devices to school, others take their weed, cocaine, or alcoholic drinks to school. Wait, what?

It’s a headscratcher, isn’t it? That the purpose of being in school, which is learning, is altered, there is no question. But it goes beyond that. There is of course, the many and terrible consequences of having developing brains exposed repeatedly to mind-altering and addictive substances. So many future sad stories that could be avoided.

That’s one aspect of it. The other one is drug trafficking. That happens as well. Kids in grade 8 (and older) are being offered drugs; to buy, that is. Some say no, some say yes.

I shook my head in disbelief when I first heard about and said no way. That’s just not possible. And yet, drug money is being made as we speak, because somehow, dealers find the avenues to make drugs available to children. And schools, unfortunately, are no safe ground either.

I was told by a paramedic that emergency services had attended to children as young as 12 who overdosed (not at school.) Yes, you read that correctly. More than one case. No one can deny the wrongness of that little-known fact. Because here is another thing: in an age of being bombarded with too much information, we know too little of what is happening in the world of our children, a world that has been stripped of much of its innocence over the last few years.

It would be wrong to say that teachers do not care. They do, but as many admit, they feel and often are, powerless. For any strategy to work, parents and educators should work together. As hard as it is to admit it, some parents become enablers of bad habits because they do not believe in consequences and often come to defend their children even when a different approach would prove beneficial to children in the first place.

As it stands now, a harm reduction strategy is likely the only viable alternative, because there is little chance that we can extract drugs (this includes alcohol,) from the midst of today’s young population. But harm reduction works, so let’s get started on that. Initiating it requires a true account of what the issue looks like from up-close. So here’s to hoping that w get there soon enough.

At the same time, allow me to wonder about how we got here. Some alternative schools in B.C. had, not so long ago, a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and it seemed to work (I hope they still do.) There are many opinions about that strategy and personally, I do not believe that kicking kids out is the way to go either. At the same time, alternative schools are the last resort, education-wise, for troubled students and they reinforce discipline and proper boundaries because it’s that or else. The result is that it motivates most students to find a purpose, which is in their case finishing high school and getting a diploma, which then allows them to build a better future for themselves.

There is no perfect solution, but there are ways; stricter rules complemented perhaps with behavioural interventions and the philosophy that every single young person is worth it, that could push kids out of harm’s way. I am a firm believer that when there are boundaries, more so in a school where parenting styles will inevitably collide, that becomes a unifying a solid ground all kids can walk on and be less vulnerable.

So while we are looking into reducing the ill effects of vaping on children and teenagers, we ought to look at how other drugs are affecting our children, alcohol included, and how the secrecy that surrounds the issue harms them more than it will ever protect them. We can do better, and we should.