By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian
It’s an upcoming problem in schools that is being addressed before it gets out of hand.
Electronic cigarettes being used by students in schools is something Gary Price, superintendent of Marion County Schools, is wanting to stop before it gets worse.
“We’ve had a couple incidents with the use of electronic cigarettes at the high school level,” he said. “It has been minor to this point but we will anticipate with the increase of availability and advertisement of them, we’ll see an increase of usage.”
In those incidents, Price said the electronic cigarettes have been taken from the students. He said the incidents have occurred during the last spring semester and fall semester.
Because electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, they cannot be taken away under the No Tobacco Policy in the school system. Price said when an incident with an electronic cigarette occurs; they are taken away as a classroom distraction.
“As of right now we are not treating them as tobacco or smoking,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean that we won’t in the future. I think that still has to be decided.”
A classroom distraction is something that causes a disturbance in the instructional environment. Price said the same guideline is also used for clothing.
“If a teacher is trying to have class and 20 kids are sitting there trying to study and a few kids are puffing on an electronic cigarette, it could very well prove to be a classroom distraction,” Price said.
A suspension could also be issued to a student along with confiscating the electronic cigarette.
Price said electronic cigarettes are a classroom distraction for several reasons. One is that they mock using a real cigarette.
“We don’t allow people to bring imitation weapons or imitations of other things that are against the law and our policies,” he said. “We’re not going to allow students to possess or use imitation cigarettes.”
Price said they are looking at electronic cigarettes as a possible health risk. He said if there are health risks, they do not want to encourage or allow the use of electronic cigarettes in schools.
“That’s one of the reason we don’t want the students to have them because it’s not clear what the health risk is,” he said.
Debbie Mann, substance abuse prevention coalition coordinator of the Family Resource Network (FRN), said the health risks associated with electronic cigarettes are still not well known because of the little research that has been done with them. She said the electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco, but some do contain nicotine.
“Nicotine is one of the most highly addictive substances, and it’s one of the few substances that the more you use it, the more your brain sensors need it,” Mann said.
She said kids will buy flavored cartridges for electronic cigarettes not knowing if they contain nicotine in them.
“They have different levels of nicotine,” Mann said. “So one flavor may have a low level of nicotine, but the next flavor they use may have a heavier level of nicotine.”
Mann said when someone uses an electronic cigarette, they breathe in vapor and breathe that vapor out. She said it has been proven that this vapor contains other chemicals and is not all water vapor like advertisements suggest.
Because electronic cigarettes imitate the behavior of smoking a tobacco cigarette, Mann said if kids are using the electronic cigarettes, it could lead to using tobacco cigarettes.
“I think any time you take a behavior that has been socially unacceptable like smoking and you make it more attractive or acceptable to do that behavior, I think it opens the door to other things that we’ve been telling kids not to do,” she said.
Mann is also the coordinator of Lunch and Learn, a program where she attends lunches at Marion County schools each week and talks with students about substance trends and risks. She said the discussion of electronic cigarettes has come up.
“One of the biggest problems with them is that no one considers electronic cigarettes to have potential harm,” Mann said.
In March 2013, bill HB2778 was introduced to the House of Delegates that would have defined “vapor products,” prohibited the use and possession of those products by an individual under 18 years of age, restricted their sale in vending machines, and establishing associated misdemeanor offenses and penalties. The bill was passed by the House and introduced to the Senate in April 2013 with the status still pending.
Mann said for now West Virginia doesn’t have a law restricting the sale of electronic cigarettes, so minors are able to buy them.
Mann said at the Lunch and Learn, students have expressed to her that they know other students who use electronic cigarettes for many reasons. She said some kids will use them to hide the fact that they are smoking actual cigarettes from their parents.
“Electronic cigarettes don’t have that heavy tobacco smell,” she said.
“They may allow use them because they think it’ll make them look cool.”
Mann said there are others who smoke electronic cigarettes because they think it will help them stop smoking actual cigarettes.
“With the research that has been done on electronic cigarettes, there’s been no conclusive evidence about how much it does help people to quit smoking,” she said. “What I’ve seen is that it does help people quit tobacco cigarettes, but even the American Lung Association has said that they do not recommend electronic cigarettes as a form of quitting because it is just as addictive with the nicotine in them.”
Mann said one way to stop kids from using electronic cigarettes is through education and parental help.
“Parents need to talk to their kids about it along with other substances,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a long talk, just maybe when they’re driving them to school or something.”
Price said for now, teachers and administrators will monitor the use of electronic cigarettes in schools.
“We don’t want to overreact, but at the same time we feel it’s a classroom distraction and that there’s some possibility of health risks,” he said.
Email Emily Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.