Public school officials in New Jersey plan to institute a harsh crackdown on electronic cigarettes by classifying the nicotine delivery devices as “drug paraphernalia.”
Officials from the Bernards Township School District think e-cigarettes are creating a public health crisis, recently claiming that vaping is “rapidly become a problematic issue among our youth.” Despite federal data showing teen use of tobacco and vapor products is on the decline, township officials are focusing addiction prevention efforts on the devices, which heat liquid nicotine and contain no tobacco, reports My Central Jersey.
District school officials and representatives of law enforcement held a meeting for parents Nov. 15 at the local middle school to discuss e-cigarettes, and Superintendent Nick Markarian recently announced plans to petition the Board of Education to classify vapor products as “drug paraphernalia.” Markarian wants harsh consequences for students found in possession of the products, including mandatory drug testing. (RELATED: School Locks Up Bathrooms To Students Over Vaping Hysteria)
“In addition to education efforts, we are also seeking to adjust board policies to make it more clear that vaping devices are being handled as drug paraphernalia,” Markarian said in a letter to parents. “Students who are found to be in possession of vaping devices will experience drug screening, counseling and discipline.”
The effort to fight the supposed threat from vaping with such severe penalties seems an odd use of resources considering youth smoking rates are falling, suggesting young Americans recognize the health threat posed by cigarettes. While public health officials at the state and local level continue to push the debunked narrative that smoking alternatives like vaping will serve as a “gateway” to tobacco products for teens, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the alarm is unfounded.
Nationally, the number of teens using any tobacco product declined from 4.7 million to 3.9 million and the number of middle school and high school students who use a vaping device dropped from 3 million to 2.2 million in 2016, hardly qualifying as a public health crisis.
Markarian also claimed at the Nov. 15 meeting that “vaping is not safe,” despite a growing body of peer-reviewed research showing the devices drastically cut the risks from smoking, do not damage lung function of long-term users and pose no second-hand dangers.
E-cigarettes eliminate up to 95 percent of the health risks associated with cigarettes, because the majority of disease-causing chemicals are only released through combustion, according to Public Health England, an arm of the U.K.’s Department of Health.
Public health experts agree that efforts to reduce tobacco use are admirable; however, they argue those efforts are bolstered, not undermined, by vaping devices. They note recent efforts to restrict vaping by cracking down on teen access to the products are backfiring, leading to increases in cigarette use.
Jenny Hoban, an expert in the field of tobacco harm reduction, argues such controls lead to the formation of a black market for tobacco, making access to traditional cigarettes easier for youth who want nicotine.
Only one year after a Massachusetts city imposed the Tobacco 21 age hike, cigarette smoking among 12th graders surged from 9 percent to 33 percent, according a recent editorial by Hoban, vice president for THR4Life, in the St. Cloud Times.
For young adult smokers, these policies cut off their access to a more effective cessation method, forcing them instead to either keep smoking or use federally approved cessation products like patches and gum, which have dismally low success rates. They also falsely suggest to young Americans that vaping carries the same harms as combustible tobacco.
Advocates of smoking alternatives say alarmism over vaping misses the larger point about e-cigarettes, namely that they are a harm reduction tool helping millions of American smokers quit combustible tobacco. Roughly 2.62 million former smokers were using a vape in 2016.
Editor’s Note: This reporter attended schools in the Bernards Township School District.
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