Port Common Council poised to pass ordinance, PW-S board revises policy to combat e-cigarette craze amid growing concerns about health hazards.
For decades, schools have fought to steer teenagers away from drinking, smoking and using drugs.
Now they are fighting a new threat to the health of their students — vaping.
“We’ve seen firsthand, and certainly heard about it at other schools, a definite trend in vaping over the last year,” Port Washington High School Principal Eric Burke said. “From talking to my kids and other students, it’s not happening as much in the classroom as it is in bathrooms at school.”
Vaping, also referred to by other names such as Juuling, is the inhaling of an aerosol, which is often laced with nicotine, produced by electronic cigarettes or similar devices.
Marketed as being safer than cigarettes, e-cigarettes consist of a mouthpiece, battery, cartridge for e-liquid or e-juice and a heating element that turns the liquid into an aerosol.
And with e-liquids that comes in thousands of flavors, many of them sweet like candy or fruity, vaping appeals to young people in a way the cigarettes do not.
That, Port Washington City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said, is no mistake.
“They (e-cigarettes) are targeted and marketed to young people,” he told the Common Council last month, noting that according to one study there are more than 7,000 flavors of e-liquid and that the devices resemble everything from pens and lipstick tubes to pipes and now USB drives.
E-cigarettes are also less regulated than tobacco products, but that is changing in Port Washington.
The Port Washington-Saukville School Board recently revised its tobacco policy to include vapor products among those things that are prohibited on school grounds or at school sponsored activities.
Punishments for violating the policy range from referrals to police and suspensions from school for first offenses to expulsion referrals for repeated offenses.
And on Wednesday, the Common Council was expected to approve an ordinance that prohibits the possession of nicotine products and electronic smoking devices by people younger than 18 anywhere in the city, including on school grounds and at school events.
The law would also prohibit the sale or gift of nicotine products and electronic smoking devices to anyone younger than 18.
Fines for violating the ordinance would range from $100 to $500 per incident.
Currently, city laws that regulate or prohibit tobacco products, marijuana and drug paraphernalia do not apply to e-cigarettes and nicotine products.
“This is a new problem,” Eberhardt said, referring to vaping. “It has its own products, nomenclature and evils.”
Of concern is a growing body of research that suggests vaping presents serious health risks that range from cancer to heart disease and that it appeals to young generation of people who would not otherwise smoke.
A University of Southern California School of Medicine study published in 2016 found that adolescents who likely would not smoke cigarettes are using e-cigarettes and are six times more likely than those who have never used e-cigarettes to later begin smoking tobacco.
Other studies have found that e-cigarettes release unsafe amounts of toxic metals such as lead, chromium and manganese and may contribute to lung and bladder cancer as well as heart disease.
“Some of the research indicates that vaping could be worse than smoking,” Burke said.
The vaping fad is seen as a dangerous setback in the decades old campaign to dissuade adolescents from using alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
“We had a presenter talk to parents who said that while drinking and smoking is down among teens, this (vaping) is on the rise,” Burke said.
And while schools and cities scramble to combat the underage vaping craze, e-cigarette manufactures are making it more difficult to crack down on vaping with discrete devices like the Juul e-cigarette.
Resembling a USB drive that can be concealed in the palm of a hand and producing sweet-smelling vapor, the Juul has become so popular that the term Juuling has been coined to describe its use.
Burke said Port High administrators have confiscated about a dozen Juul and similar devices from students caught using them at school.
Burke noted that Juul devices and other vaping materials are readily accessible to teenagers online.
“As a parent and a principal, it’s really concerning that kids can order this stuff online, including synthetic substances that mimic drugs,” he said.
Burke said one of the keys to combatting vaping is to make it clear that it is not a safe alternative to smoking and that for adolescents, it will likely soon be illegal.
“This is all pretty new and we’re trying our best to educate ourselves and parents,” he said. “I would hope that the school district policy and city ordinance send a strong message to our kids.”
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