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Pilot program at Bethel Regional High School aims to curb teen tobacco use

A new pilot program at Bethel Regional High School (BRHS) could help kids avoid vaping and Tobacco use. In August, the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) installed air quality sensors in the high school. Principal Alicia Miner said that they are going off daily. “We are finding kids with vapes weekly,” she said.

LKSD policy allows school officials to confiscate tobacco products from students. Miner said that a first offense usually results in a notification to parents. Repeated violations can result in up to three days of suspension from school. “BRHS is working to find more restorative ways so that kids are not missing school,” said Miner.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), close to one in five teenagers use e-cigarettes, or vapes. Officials at BRHS are partnering with the ALA and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation to offer a class during homeroom sessions in October. “It’s not just if you are currently vaping. It’s also education,” said Miner, who emailed information about the program to parents twice this month.

Participating teens will learn how nicotine affects the body. Miner said that the program is unlikely to become mandatory, but she hopes that it will replace suspension as a disciplinary action. Six other schools statewide are also participating in the initiative.

Emily Schwing is a long-time Alaska-based reporter.