Deering High juniors Justin Reisinger, left, and Christianne Shadidi hope to start an anti-vaping campaign at the school this year. “The freshmen are trying to look cool to the juniors and seniors, and that’s when they’ll try it,” Shadidi said.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Christianne Shadidi, a junior at Deering High School in Portland, hasn’t seen much vaping in the hallways and bathrooms at the high school yet this school year, but she expects that in the coming weeks students will find a way to circumvent the rules to take a drag on their vape pens during the school day.

Vaping has become an increasing problem in schools as students become addicted to nicotine by using the hard-to-detect devices. About one-third of high school students have tried vaping, according to a recent survey.

Without an obvious smell, vaping is easier to hide from school staff than combustible cigarettes. Schools are trying to adapt with varying strategies to limit vaping – even installing vape detectors in the bathrooms – but it’s a struggle.

“It’s a silent epidemic,” said Dr. Laura Blaisdell, a public health expert and president of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “In many ways, as a society we are blind to the awareness of this problem. We don’t know what’s happening when we can’t see or smell it. In the past, if there were three kids in bathroom, and each of them smoked a pack of cigarettes, we would know. It would be obvious. But now many times we don’t know.”

An attempt by Maine lawmakers to ban flavored tobacco products – including vaping products with flavors like strawberry, mint, cherry or menthol – stalled in this year’s legislative session, but is expected to be taken up again early next year. Meanwhile, some cities and towns, including Portland, South Portland, Bangor and Brunswick, have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products.

Rampant vaping during school has led principals and superintendents to seek creative ways to limit vaping use – from vape detectors in bathrooms to limitations on hall passes and increased surveillance of common areas, such as hallways and bathrooms. Some schools have even locked certain restrooms that had become popular places to vape. Vaping devices that mimic school supplies, like highlighters, pens and USB devices, make them hard to detect.


Several school officials said they have had to develop a comprehensive strategy to try to curtail use, but that it’s a difficult problem to solve.

“Kids can so easily do it without you noticing,” said Steven Bussiere, assistant superintendent for Sanford schools. “We are finding more use among younger students. It’s a public health crisis in my opinion.”

Vaping, said Shadidi, the Deering High student, is often rooted in the social dynamics of high school. For example, freshmen looking to fit in will seek out juniors and seniors, and that’s when they are often introduced to vaping, she said.

Deering High School Principal Jacob Giessman said there’s been an increased emphasis on getting students who are addicted to nicotine the help that they need. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“It’s often friend groups that vape together, and some of those haven’t been established yet,” said Shadidi, 17, who hopes to start an anti-vaping campaign at Deering High this year, along with her friend, junior Justin Reisinger. “The freshmen are trying to look cool to the juniors and seniors, and that’s when they’ll try it.”

In addition to bathrooms, common areas where students will vape include the parking lots and the back patio, which are accessible to students during lunchtime and study halls, Shadidi said.



Jake Giesmann, Deering High principal, said that they have tried different strategies, but the ones that have worked best so far have involved increasing supervision in areas where students are likely to vape, such as restrooms and hallways.

“Kids usually do the right thing if there’s an adult around,” Giesmann said. Deering also launched a computer program last year that replaced the paper hall pass system, that has the added benefit of making it harder for students to congregate in the restrooms. Giesmann said the program will issue an alert if it notices two students asking for passes at the same time more than once, and it won’t let them use the restroom at the same time. The passes have a time limit to them to prevent loitering in the restrooms and hallways.

Giesmann said there’s also been an increased emphasis on getting students who are addicted to nicotine the help that they need, through referrals and the on-site health clinic.

Iqra Noor, a Deering dean and 2018 graduate, said students lack awareness that vaping is dangerous, which is leading to more usage compared to five years ago.

The Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey shows vaping use within the previous 30 days among high school students increasing from 16.8% in 2015, the first year the question was asked, to 30.2% in 2019. Usage dipped to 17.4% in 2021, according to the survey, but public health experts are concerned that data was skewed because the pandemic may have temporarily affected usage, with limits on gatherings and in-person learning. Thirty-two percent of high school students tried vaping at least once, according to the 2021 results, compared to 45% in 2019.

Combustible cigarette use has been falling for decades, and is down to about 5% in 2021, according to the Maine survey.


The results from the 2023 survey, taken in the spring, have not yet been released. The youth health survey is conducted every two years.

Lizzie Nalli, the Deering High School nurse, talks often to students about vaping use, and tries to get them to realize that certain symptoms – such as shortness of breath – likely stem from to vaping. She tries to connect them to help.

Deering High School students leave school for lunch recess on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Blaisdell said another complicating factor for students is that if they use a lot on the weekends and at home, and then try to not vape during the school day they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Blaisdell said some of the nicotine concentrations are so strong in vaping devices, that what seems like relatively moderate use is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.


Jake Langlais, superintendent of Lewiston schools, said the district is considering purchasing vape detectors, which work by detecting the presence of specific chemicals that are released when vaping occurs, for the high school and middle school. Currently the district has increased adult supervision of the restrooms to try to limit vaping, but it’s a drain of resources that could be used elsewhere. The vape detectors have the added benefit of being able to detect other problems, such as fighting, shouting, a fall or a medical emergency, but the initial cost estimate is about $120,000. He said the district is still determining whether the detectors would be a worthwhile purchase.

At Sanford schools, Bussiere said they hired a substance use counselor, stepped up monitoring of the restrooms and started a program in place of out-of-school suspension in which students are removed from the classroom for the day to learn about the dangers of vaping.


“No one strategy is going to work. It’s a multipronged approach,” Bussiere said.

Jeremy Ray, Biddeford schools superintendent, said they are also monitoring restrooms and hallways more to try to limit vaping, but it means another added duty for staff.

“It takes a lot of effort and time to do this from our high school administrators and teachers, to properly monitor students coming and going from places,” Ray said.

Owyn Moncure, a Brunswick High School junior, said while she is not tempted to try vaping, she worries that people she knows in high school will start using and become addicted.

“I get super anxious about that,” Moncure said. She said when she was a freshman, she would go into the restrooms and large groups of girls would be crowded around sinks taking hits on their vape pens. It made using the restroom an unpleasant experience. But she said that teachers now have become bathroom monitors, and that’s also unfortunate because they are less available during study halls. Moncure realizes there’s no easy solutions, and wishes vaping was less prevalent.

“What bothers me is that vaping has become so normalized,” Moncure said.

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