Roanoke Catholic tries new approach to prevent tobacco use, vaping

ROANOKE, Va. – Underage vaping continues to be an issue across the country. But one local school is trying to be proactive in getting students to skip the habit.

E-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth since 2014, according to the CDC. At Roanoke Catholic, they’re trying a new approach.

“Students have a lot to turn to these days especially when they see things on social media and online. We want to equip them to have some other things they can choose rather than turning to something that may lead to an addiction,” said Chris Michael, Roanoke Catholic dean of students and associate head of school.

The school is getting about $120,000 over the next three years from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth for programming, teacher training and more focusing on teaching kids about healthy decision making.

“Learning how to manage their feelings, learning those drug refusal skills, learning that essential 21st-century skill of critical thinking, really making good and wise decisions about their own health,” said Jenny Martin, the southwest regional grants administrator for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.


Martin says across Virginia, organizations and schools are getting about $2.7 million in grants this year.

“We know that 90% of adult smokers started using tobacco before the age of 18, so this is really the critical window of time to intervene with young people, help them chart the right course for avoiding tobacco use,” said Martin.

Michael says for younger kids in pre-k and elementary school, it’s about getting them to make good choices.

“As they get older, those conversations are going to turn into tobacco use, alcohol use, even the marijuana discussion,” said Michael.

Typically, if you get caught using tobacco on campus, you get suspended. But this grant gives them an alternative, and there classes students can take instead.

“We also want to support our students as far as their social and emotional well-being goes and I think this is a big piece of that puzzle,” said Michael. “We really want to be redemptive and let them know that there is forgiveness and this is not going to mean the rest of their life is changed. We want them to be able to work through that.”


He says they’re also adding new ways of being able to tell if students are vaping.

“While we would like to think it’s very low we are a snapshot of our public school system and while our classes are not huge, we know that there’s things that need to be addressed,” said Michael.

Science, PE and health teachers will all be teaching the lessons so it comes from multiple disciplines. Roanoke Catholic hopes this spurs other private schools or organizations to apply for similar grants.

Here are some statistics from Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth:

  • According to the 2019 Virginia Youth Survey, 29% of high school students in Southwest Virginia reported using an e-cigarette/vaping product in the past month This is compared to only 10% of students reporting smoking a cigarette in the past month. *These figures are significantly higher than statewide rates of vaping/e-cigarette use (20%) and cigarette smoking (5%).

  • To address the alarming rate of e-cigarette (vaping) use among youth, VFHY classroom-based programs that reach middle and high school youth include information on the hazards of vaping and the impact of nicotine on the developing brain.

The CDC reports:

  • Among high school students who currently used any type of flavored e-cigarettes in 2020, the most commonly used flavors are fruit (73.1%), mint (55.8%), menthol (37.0%), and candy, desserts, or other sweets (36.4%).
  • In 2018, more than 3.6 million youth in the United States were current e-cigarette users.

Organizations in the Southwest region receiving Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth classroom-based funding for tobacco use prevention programs in 2021-24:

Organization Locality Served Total over 3 years
Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare Roanoke County $150,000
Bristol Virginia Public Schools Bristol $137,698
Carroll County Public Schools Carroll County $150,000
Danville-Pittsylvania Community Services Danville and Pittsylvania County $148,874
Grayson County Public Schools Grayson County $132,142
Henry County Schools Henry County $150,000
Highlands Community Services Washington County $150,000
Martinsville City Public Schools Martinsville $150,000
Montgomery County Public Schools Montgomery County $47,852
Mt. Rogers Community Services Wythe County $120,230
Piedmont Community Services Franklin County $150,000
Planning District 1 Behavioral Health Services Lee, Scott and Wise Counties $146,180
Roanoke Catholic School Roanoke City $115,033
Smyth County Public Schools Smyth County $147,669
Twin County Prevention Coalition Galax $102,561
United Way of Southwest Virginia Buchanan, Carroll, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington Counties
and the cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton and Radford
Total amount given $2,148,239

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