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Editorial: Schools are wise to crack down on e-cigarettes

Things were simpler for school disciplinarians in the days when the smell of cigarettes was a tip-off that kids were smoking in the lavatories. Now the bathrooms “smell like potpourri,” in the words of Lisa Krueger, an assistant superintendent in the Orchard Park Central School District.

Krueger was talking about e-cigarettes, or vape pens, the tobacco alternative that comes in sweet-smelling flavors and has hooked thousands of young users across the country. It’s become a crisis and, if anything, schools are late to the task of cracking down on their use.

E-cigarettes were developed to help smokers quit by giving them a way to satisfy their nicotine cravings without the tar and carcinogens that come with tobacco. But it’s the addictive quality of nicotine that’s of concern.

“Nobody thinks kids using a product with nicotine is a good idea,” Andrew Hyland, chair of health behavior research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, told The News. “They may be safer than cigarettes, but not safe — they still put one at risk.”

Vaping cartridges don’t come in varieties like “Marlboro Junior.” They have more exotic flavors, such as mango, coconut and crème brûlée. That’s another reason they appeal to teens.

Fortunately, pressure from the federal and local governments, as well as the public, is changing the way e-cigarettes are sold and marketed.

In Erie County, selling vaping tools will be prohibited in retailers that house a pharmacy under a law passed by the Legislature last month.

One of the most popular brands, Juul Labs, announced in November it would suspend sales of most of its flavored pods in retail stores. The San Francisco-based company has an estimated 70 percent of the e-cigarette market share in the United States.

Roswell Park’s Hyland noted the sleek appearance of the Juul cartridges, which can be easily concealed by youngsters. “They’re almost like an iPhone for e-cigarettes.”

The stealth presence of vaping devices makes it tough for school personnel to crack down on them, but the schools are right to keep up the pressure on young users. A 2018 survey found that more than 3 million high school students nationwide use e-cigarettes.

A story in The News this week highlighted steps that a number of school districts are taking.

In Williamsville, students caught with vaping devices can be suspended for three days, or longer if they are repeat offenders.

Cleveland Hill schools give students a warning, escalating the punishment to detentions or in-school suspensions. Orchard Park schools confiscate the devices and dispose of them.

School personnel may feel like they are fighting an uphill battle, but it’s one worth fighting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaping products can contain harmful chemicals like heavy metals, unstable organic compounds, and inhalable particles that can cause health issues.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams in December declared e-cigarette use among American youth an epidemic.

Adults can make their own choices about the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes, alcohol and other substances. But the longer kids can be spared from exposure to those products, the better for society.

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