Superior High School is on the forefront of the battle against youth tobacco use. The school was one of two in Wisconsin and one of 10 in the nation to pilot the American Lung Association’s Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health (INDEPTH) program last school year.

School social worker Jane Larson said SHS has recently been asked to test-drive the lung association’s retooled cessation program, Not On Tobacco, beginning in March.

Both programs target vaping, as well as traditional tobacco use, and they give students a chance to change.

The four-session INDEPTH program was developed in response to the vaping epidemic, said Pat McKone, senior director with the American Lung Association. It is offered to students who are caught vaping or using tobacco products for the first time in lieu of suspension. Students can also self-refer to the program.

It’s a learning opportunity, not a cessation program.

“Here’s an opportunity to work with somebody and see if you can do something different,” Larson said.

Students learn how vaping can affect their health and budget, and discuss healthy alternatives as a group.

“Typically the kids are using in a peer group,” Larson said. “If you can establish a peer group working toward the same goal of trying to quit, they can be a support for each other.”

The program shows they’re not alone, she said, and they learn from each other.

A total of 59 students have gone through the INDEPTH program since SHS began piloting it.

“What I like about the program, too, is it gives our administration an alternative to just suspending kids from school,” said Activities Director Ray Kosey. “Yeah, there’s got to be a consequence, that’s our policy, now you can take the class in lieu of suspension … If kids take that option, they’re still in our building and we can support them academically.”

Kosey said students vape at the high school on a daily basis. Vaping is also a county-wide concern, according to the results of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The survey was taken by 1,394 students from Superior, Northwestern and Solon Springs high schools. Nearly half those students, 49%, said they’ve tried vaping, and 24% of high school students in Douglas County reported vaping in the last 30 days.

In contrast, 11% of students reported using other tobacco products in the past 30 days (5% used chew or smokeless tobacco, 6% used cigars, 8% used cigarettes).

Of those who have vaped or used other tobacco products, nearly half — 46%— reported trying to quit within the past 12 months.

Larson also offers the Not On Tobacco cessation program to SHS students, and five have completed it. The high school will be among the first to pilot changes to the 10-session program next month.

McKone said experts are still learning about vaping devices, which are unregulated and target youth with candy-like flavors. People often think vaping is less harmful than traditional tobacco products.

“These delivery systems are very powerful and we know these young people are truly addicted to nicotine,” McKone said. “We want to be sure we’re meeting these needs and really addressing the epidemic we’re in.”

The programs offer students a chance to change, rather than miss school.

“If we want to change behavior, suspension doesn’t change behavior,” Larson said. “When somebody’s addicted, they’re addicted, and sending them home isn’t going to help.”

Parents are also on the front lines in the battle against big tobacco. Because vaping devices mimic common items like highlighters and flash drives, they might be hard to spot.

“I think a lot of parents might not know what’s going on,” Kosey said. “I think parents really have to be watching their kids, asking questions, having good conversations and telling them the health risk.”

The INDEPTH and NOT programs are free. Visit the American Lung Association website to learn more.