As a parent, I can’t help but get angry when I see vaping shops popping up all over the place. Advertising flavors like “Gummi Bear,” “Blue Raz Cotton Candy” and “Swagger,” it is clear that manufacturers are doing their best to seduce our children into trying and using these electronic smoking devices.
According to the Center on Addiction vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. The term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol, often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease…[A] Vaping device consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a cartridge for containing the e-liquid or e-juice, and a heating component for the device that is powered by a battery. When the device is used, the battery heats up the heating component, which turns the contents of the e-liquid into an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs and then exhaled.”
While smoking combustible tobacco has irrefutably been proven to be highly unhealthy, research indicates that inhaling vaporized nicotine is slightly less dangerous. So if a person already smokes cigarettes, e-cigarettes are a safer alternative because they have reduced toxicity compared to conventional cigarettes.
Even though electronic smoking devices also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) have practical and safer uses for enabling smokers to quit or as a substitute for the more dangerous combustible tobacco, that does not mean that these devises are safe and in particular safe for children.
Many of the products contain nicotine, which is known to be addictive and harmful to adolescent brain development. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s recommendation is unequivocal: “No youth should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.”
Despite the danger to children, the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report: E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young concluded that E-cigarettes are marketed by promoting flavors and using a wide variety of media channels and approaches that have been used in the past for marketing conventional tobacco products to youth and young adults. Among the other conclusions in the report:
E-cigarette use among youth and young adults has become a public health concern. In 2014, current use of e-cigarettes by young adults 18–24 years of age surpassed that of adults 25 years of age and older.
E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, surpassing conventional cigarettes in 2014. E-cigarette use is strongly associated with the use of other tobacco products among youth and young adults, including combustible tobacco products.
The use of products containing nicotine poses dangers to youth, pregnant women, and developing fetuses. The use of products containing nicotine in any form among youth, including in e-cigarettes, is unsafe.
E-cigarette aerosol is not harmless. It can contain harmful and potentially harmful constituents, including nicotine. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.
As of Aug. 8, 2016 the Federal Food and Drug Administration, under the authority of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed regulations that “extend its regulatory authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes – which are also called electronic cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), – cigars, and hookah and pipe tobacco, as part of its goal to improve public health.”
Prior to the regulation, ENDS and e-liquids were marketed and sold without any review what was in them. Among the new rules the devices and e-liquids cannot be sold to minors under the age of 18; stores are required to check a photo ID for everyone under the age of 27; free samples cannot be distributed; and e-cigarettes cannot be sold in vending machines.
In New Jersey the sale and distribution of electronic smoking devices to persons under age 21 are prohibited (N.J.S.A. 2A:170-51.4 and N.J.S.A. 2C:33-13.1). Liquid nicotine must be sold in child-resistant containers (N.J.S.A. 2A:170-51.9). The use of electronic smoking devices is prohibited in all places that smoking is prohibited by the New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act (N.J.S.A. 26:3D-55 et seq.).
School District Policy In response to this trend and the potential health hazards to children, the NJSBA policy department has received multiple requests for policy on vaping. Board members and administrators are also expressing concerns that students are using these devices to inhale drugs and specifically marijuana and Flakka, a water soluble, “bath-salt-type” drug that produces a feeling of euphoria. They are concerned that vaporized drugs do not have the telltale and often pungent scent associated with the combustible versions and that students are using these devices to hide their drug use.
While the electronic smoking device may be relatively new, student use of tobacco products and drugs on school grounds are not new issues. Model policy 3515 Smoking Prohibition in the Critical Policy Reference Manual (CPRM) prohibits smoking which, by definition, includes the use of electronic smoking devices:
For purposes of this policy, “smoking” means inhaling the burning or vapor of a lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, electronic smoking device or any other matter or substance which contains tobacco. Chewing tobacco is also specifically prohibited by this policy. (Excerpt 3515 Smoking Prohibition in the Critical Policy Reference Manual, CPRM)
Each board is required to develop policies and procedures prohibiting smoking in school facilities and on school grounds (N.J.A.C. 6A:26-12.2(a) 4). The use of electronic smoking devices is prohibited on school grounds and all other places smoking is prohibited by the New Jersey Smoke Free Air Act (N.J.S.A. 26:3D-55 et seq.). Therefore, any student caught using the device is in violation of law and mandatory school policy regardless of what is in the device. While it is true that the vapor does not smell and is therefore less detectable than smoke, the vapor is visible and even a bit more obvious to spot than other covert substance abuse, such as a student who might have vodka in a water bottle.
The possession of drugs and any suspicion that a student is under the influence of a drug or alcohol requires the implementation of mandatory policy and procedures for substance abuse (model policy 5131.6 Substance Abuse and N.J.A.C. 6A:16-4.1 et seq.). Requirements include reporting suspicion of substance abuse, intervention, supervision of any student suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol and medical examination. In addition, policy and law require that staff members receive in-service training in the identification of the symptoms and behavioral patterns which might indicate that a child may be involved in substance abuse (N.J.S.A. 18A:40A-15). Therefore, if a student is caught using the electronic smoking device and there is any physical or behavioral indicator that the student may be under the influence of drugs, all district substance abuse reporting and intervention procedures apply.
Vaping is a destructive student fad. It stands counter to the current important educational initiatives that support health and wellness in our schools. It is understandable that boards are interested in making a statement opposing vaping. When considering policy development on vaping, a stand-alone policy on this topic would have to include all the requirements of both the 3515 Smoking Prohibition policy and the 5131.6 Substance Abuse policy in order to be comprehensive. That is a lot of redundant policy coverage. While this issue is covered by existing policy, a board may consider amending one or both of the existing policies to specifically address that the use of electronic smoking devices is prohibited and may be interpreted as an indicator of substance abuse. Revised policies, like new policies, are announced on the board agenda and send a message to the public that the board is taking matters in hand to address important issues. The board may also consider supporting district programs that combat marketing campaigns that make electronic smoking devices seem fun and harmless and inform students, staff and the community of the risks associated with nicotine and these devices.
Electronic smoking devices seem to be reviving the mystique once associated with smoking. Enticing marketing strategies that promote exciting new flavors and emphasize vapor as a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco, cloud the truth and mislead our children by minimizing the health hazards and addictiveness associated with nicotine. Vaping is not cool and while not all e-liquids contain nicotine, many of the flavors do. It is easy to see our children following Alice down this rabbit hole and becoming addicted to nicotine. It is the role of school leaders to be aware of trends that affect the health and well-being of our school community and respond appropriately by supporting initiatives that inform the public and combat seductive and alluring advertisements directed at young people today.
NJSBA critical policies and legal references 3515 Smoking Prohibition and 5131.6 Substance Abuse may be downloaded athttps://ws.njsba.org/njsba/policy/. For sample and model regulations covering smoking and substance abuse and other related topics or for help developing policy and regulation language to suit your needs do not hesitate to contact NJSBA Policy Services.