BERNARDS, NJ -- More than one-quarter of Bernards Township 10th- and 12th-graders said they had used e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to taking a survey given by the school and township health department.

Kaitlin Cartoccio, a health educator with the township health department, presented findings from the first-time PRIDE survey to the Board of Education on Monday, Sept. 23. The survey asked  sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders about use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

The school bans smoking of all kinds on school grounds, and the high school health curriculum is looking to revamp its health curriculum.

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“As a parent or educator, any kind of statistic that shows a lot of underage kids drinking and apparently using things that are not good for their bodies is concerning,” said Superintendent Nick Markarian after the meeting.

He said the district particularly wants to work to put off the age of first use of alcohol and tobacco, when children’s brains are still fully forming. Surveys show the longer a person delays trying alcohol or tobacco, they less likely they will have problems later in life.

The survey summary said students underestimate the risk of most drugs, with perception of risk decreasing with age. Students said they use e-cigarettes even though five out of eight respondents in 10th and 12th grades saw moderate or great risk. More than 41 percent of 12th-graders saw nothing wrong with using e-cigarettes.

Three of every eight 12th-graders, and one in five 10th-graders, said they have smoked marijuana or some other illicit drug with an e-cigarette device. Those numbers fell when asked if they had done so in the last 30 days.

While devices can be used to inhale and draw on flavored substances, they are often used as a substitute for tobacco cigarettes, which produce the addictive drug nicotine. The devices can also be used to “smoke” marijuana, hashish and other illicit drugs.

A program answering questions on vaping, “The devices and ingredients driving the epidemic,” will be presented at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the township municipal building on Collyer Lane. Adults and students are invited. The program is sponsored by the Bernards Township Municipal Alliance and Ridge Alliance against Alcohol and Drugs.

There were 901 responses to the PRIDE survey, by slightly more girls than boys in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. The 40- to 50-minute survey was given anonymously and voluntary in March.

Parents had to agree to have their child take the survey, and about 50 percent of students in the four grades participated. School board members said they would like to see a higher percentage of students respond. Only 21 to 30 percent of students in each of the four grades took the survey. Health officials said they would work to yield a higher response rate when the survey is retaken two years from now.

In other notes:

  • In 10th grade, more girls (13 percent) than boys (8 percent) used e-cigarettes, with the numbers flipping (17 percent for boys, to girls’14) in 12th grade.

  • The average age of first use of e-cigarettes was 13 and one-half.

  • More than half of the time, e-cigarettes were offered by a friend and used “at a friend’s house” for 10th- and 12th-graders on a weekend, the survey said.

Pride surveys are used by more than 8,000 school systems in all 50 states to gather data on student tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use and related behaviors.