Erie County legislators are poised to create legislation raising the age of those who can buy e-cigarette products from 18 to 21.
Suburban school principals came before the Legislature Thursday to urge lawmakers to take action against the "epidemic" of e-cigarettes.
"It’s Joe Camel all over again and it’s ramped up for the 21st century," said Jason Winnicki, principal of West Seneca East High School. "We’ve got to take a stand. It’s something we’ve got to do, I beg of you."
School principals and administrators asked the Legislature to take whatever action is necessary to make e-cigarette and vaping products harder to get and to consider additional legislation to limit in-store marketing by retailers.
Legislator John Bruso, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said he expected the Legislature will be interested in taking additional action based on the feedback received during hours of committee testimony over the past two weeks.
"These are good suggestions," said Bruso, D-Lancaster, who said he has a teenage nephew who vapes and is addicted to nicotine. "I'll look at anything."
School officials expressed alarm at how quickly vaping has become prevalent among all types of students, not just certain cliques.
"Now, vaping is across the board – it's your leadership kids, it's your athletes," said Carol Townsend, principal of Depew High School, who called vaping one of the most disturbing trends she's ever witnessed as a veteran school administrator.
John Brinker, principal of West Seneca West High School, brought a handful of e-cigarette devices confiscated from students showing how they looked like pens, highlighters and flash drives.
"How do you detect this?" he asked.
Many school districts have already changed their policies to impose harsher penalties, including multi-day in-school and out-of-school suspensions, for initial offenses, and more serious consequences for repeat offenders. But given how small, disguised and subtle e-cigarette products and byproducts are, the principals conceded they are catching only 10 percent or less of student users who are growing into a new generation of nicotine addicts.
Brian Swatland, principal of Williamsville East High School, said students caught vaping are automatically sent to see both the school nurse and a social worker and are subject to a two-day, out-of-school suspension.
While educators expressed the need to better educate parents and students, Chairman Peter Savage, D-Buffalo, said he is also concerned there are not enough health resources in the community to target and treat youth who are addicted to nicotine because of the popularity of e-cigarettes among youth.
Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, pointed out that the County Legislature has already approved legislation to forbid smoking in public places and county parks, and to prohibit the sale of tobacco and e-cigarette products at pharmacy retailers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also pushing legislation to raise the age for purchasing e-cigarette products to 21 and forbid the sale of certain flavored vaping products that many see as targeting youth.
School administrators said they do not believe any one measure will end the use of vaping products among high school and middle school youth, but that every effort to limit accessibility to these products helps.