Disposable Flavored E-Cigarettes Are Wreaking Havoc in American Schools
The e-cigarette epidemic consumes significant school resources, negatively affecting learning, social environments and safety.
Over the summer School Resource Officer Associations hosted their annual conferences, and the e-cigarette and vaping epidemic was a major topic of interest. Each day a flood of illegal disposable vapes are infiltrating our schools. These dangerous products, marketed to children in candy flavors and bright colors are not merely classroom distractions. This new face of the teen vaping epidemic is threatening students’ lives.
This marketing to children has worked. According to data from the CDC, youth usage of disposable e-cigarettes is up 2188% since 2019. Dr. Brian King, the director for the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, recently stated that “a sizeable portion of youth are still vaping flavored and disposable products.”
These alarming statistics and studies show that the focus should be on illegal disposable vapes in kid-friendly flavors. Aside from being illegal, these products do not belong in the possession of our students. These flavored disposable products from brands such as Elf Bar, Esco Bar, Breeze Smoke and Puff Bar are marketed directly to youth on platforms such as TikTok. Recently #ElfBar just passed the 2 billion view mark, with many of these posts that are no doubt geared toward America’s young people.
Vaping Diverts Precious School Resources
The vaping epidemic has consumed a significant amount of limited resources in many school districts and is negatively affecting learning, social environments and most importantly safety. School Resource Officers (SROs) already have a difficult enough job in today’s society without the threat of dangerous illegal vapes entering the schools and posing a significant risk to the health of students.
SROs face scrutiny by many who believe that our presence in schools creates conflict for students instead of fostering a peaceful learning environment. SROs serve as informal mentors and counselors to students they interact with on a daily basis. However, the enforcement of vaping sanctions in schools has put a significant strain on the role of mentor.
Some states have seen an increase of 519% in vaping sanctions, which in many instances becomes the responsibility of the SRO. These officers should be protectors against the threat of violence, both internal and external rather than disciplining students for vaping. Their role is to keep a watchful eye to prevent everything from minor lunchroom skirmishes to traumatic events that have become all too familiar for Americans.
Locking Bathroom Doors to Combat E-Cigarettes Can Backfire
Some schools have started questionable practices while looking to combat the vaping epidemic. One school in Alabama removed the doors to bathroom stalls in order to prevent students from vaping in bathrooms. As to be expected, parents felt that these steps were excessive by school administrators.
Some schools started the practice of locking bathrooms during the school day. This was the case at Marjory Stonemen Douglas High School five years ago. According to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, this practice was the decision of Broward County Public Schools due to problems with students vaping in the bathrooms. Several of the students who were shot in the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at that campus attempted to enter two different locked student bathrooms to hide from the attacker.
Many school districts are purchasing and installing vape detectors and installing them in areas prone to vaping use by students. This is money that should be used to improve school security and infrastructure.
Extreme practices are not the solution when it comes to curtailing the teen vaping epidemic.
Lawmakers Need to Do More to Address the Problem
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration created new vaping product regulations but did little to address the growing trend of disposable vapes. These illegal vapes are being smuggled across our borders from foreign countries. Shenzhen China produces 90% of all e-cigarettes in the world, and it is estimated that over 700 million disposable e-cigarettes were imported from China to the United States in 2022. These products are often produced without government oversight or standards and in many cases are smuggled into the United States illegally.
Since 2019, government surveys have shown big drops, specifically due to the pandemic, in vaping among middle and high school students. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials no longer describe the issue as an epidemic.
However, SROs and school officials don’t believe that student vaping is no longer an epidemic. The school district where I was an SRO recovered more than 200 vaping devices from students during the 2022-2023 school year.
Some lawmakers have started to take action by introducing new legislation to prompt urgent FDA action. Mayor Eric Adams of New York filed a federal lawsuit against four disposable vape distributors. The lawsuit accuses the companies of violating nearly every applicable federal, state, and local law governing the sale of such products and is based on the grounds that the companies have primarily focused on selling their flavored, disposable e-cigarettes to middle-school children and high school youth. This is evident as we are now seeing disposable vaping devices made to look like school highlighters, thumb drives, and other school supplies. It is hard to deny that these are specifically targeting our high school and middle school students. These items are produced in China and imported into the United States with no federal regulation.
SROs are committed to helping provide students with a safe place to learn. Part of that responsibility and commitment is trying to protect students from threats like active shooters, drugs, and alcohol. Lawmakers must do more to help SROs in their effort to provide a safe and healthy learning environment.
We need a more aggressive approach to the source of these disposable vapes so we can keep these illegal products out of our schools.
Stefan Bjes is assistant director of campus safety for patrol and North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and was previously an SRO.
Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.
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