Schools must strategize on e-cigs

Area school districts should set aside time this summer to deal with the issue of electronic cigarettes.

For those districts that already have implemented policies and actions, the summertime task should consist of evaluating what’s been done so far and the success of those efforts, plus ascertaining what further steps might be helpful for the future.

For school systems that haven’t had to give serious attention to the issue, school boards and administrators should look toward what other districts have witnessed and how they’ve responded and determine how those districts’ responses might be helpful to theirs someday.

It’s clear that electronic cigarettes aren’t going to be a brief fad. Beyond attracting adults who laudably are trying to give up smoking, they’ve become a temptation to young people — some well under the age of 18 — who

shouldn’t have access to them.

For many young people, the e-cigarettes have become a status symbol, without regard to what negative health impacts might be lurking as a result of their use.

Electronic-cigarette usage among young people is described as “exploding” — sweeping through high schools and middle schools across America — despite federal regulations that prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from purchasing the devices.

School officials must work to keep the devices out of their facilities, just like those officials prohibit and do battle against tobacco use.

An article in the April 23 Mirror focusing on the e-cigarette issue quoted Judy Rosser, executive director of the Blair County Drug and Alcohol Partnerships, who urged teachers to “be aware of these things that look like flash drives.”

“We encourage schools to review their drug policies so that they don’t include new vaping culture,” Rosser said.

Unfortunately, it’s a safe bet that many parents are oblivious to what’s happening on the e-cigarette front in the schools and in their community and don’t have a clue as to whether their own children have obtained and started using the devices.

Although the e-cigarette industry argues otherwise, Rosser maintains that “the whole e-cigarette industry is targeted to kids in that the nicotine is flavored and the way they are designed.”

But there’s more to the e-cigarette issue than the devices getting into the hands and mouths of individuals too young to legally smoke cigarettes. Research is incomplete as to how vaping might affect users’ long-term health, especially young people’s.

Likewise, knowledge is lacking about how repeated secondhand exposure to e-cigarettes might eventually impact non-users’ health.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office has concluded that, besides exposing users to nicotine, users are exposed to harmful chemicals such as carbonyl compounds and volatile organic compounds.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have noted that drinking or injecting e-liquids can be fatal, and that exposure to skin or eyes can cause seizures and other serious problems.

For adults trying to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are a temporary, acceptable remedy; evidence suggests that e-cigarette aerosol contains fewer toxic substances and lower levels of them than smoke from conventional cigarettes.

But for young people, the devices carry the potential for addiction, “moving up” to conventional cigarettes, and possible ill-health effects that the science community has yet to determine.

School systems must use the summer months to plot the best strategy for addressing those troubling potentials.