Schools are taking the lead in fight against e-cigarettes

Published 4:22 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

Earlier this month, the Jefferson County School District filed a lawsuit in federal court in southern Mississippi against the largest e-cigarette maker in the United States.

In its lawsuit, the district claimed Juul Labs is deceptively marketing its products to teenagers and causing young people to become addicted. According to a report from the Associated Press, the suit seeks an unspecified amount of money, including some to pay for prevention education and addiction treatment.

The coverage reports attorneys representing the district are seeking to have the case certified as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all the school districts in Mississippi.

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Jefferson County School District, a district of only 1,200 students, is making a bold statement and, in doing so, is taking the lead on addressing a problem all districts — including the Vicksburg Warren School District — are facing. It is also an initiative that all districts should follow.

Growing up, I can vividly remember the smell of cigarette smoke in the school bathrooms. I can remember teachers having to stand “bathroom duty” to cut down on the number of students trying to take a quick puff in between class.

It was hard to get away with such an act. The smell was something that was a dead giveaway. Today, e-cigarettes have taken the place of cigarettes and have unfortunately become far too popular to students — not just at the high schools, but also at middles schools.

To address the rise in the popularity of vaping, the Vicksburg Warren School District adopted additional policies to address e-cigarettes and vaping. 

“Electronic cigarettes have recently surpassed conventional cigarettes as the most commonly used tobacco product among youths,” the policy reads. “The Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Education recognizes that the use of electronic cigarettes and other vaping devices, or any tobacco products, is detrimental to the health and safety of students, staff and visitors and is therefore prohibited at all times.

“This policy applies to all students, school staff, parents, and any visitors while on school grounds, in school buildings and facilities, in any school bus, on school property or at school-related activities or school-sponsored events which includes, but is not limited to, athletic events.”

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “e-cigarette use among middle and high school students increased alarmingly between 2017 and 2018, with over 3.6 million kids currently using e-cigarettes in 2018.”

The survey also states that after a general decline in the use of tobacco products by teens between 2015 and 2017, data showed “a sharp and startling reversal of overall declines in youth tobacco use from previous years.”

According to the data, use by high school students increased 78 percent, from 11.7 to 20.8 percent. In the case of middle school-aged students, use jumped 48 percent from 2017 to 2018. At the time of the survey’s release, a total of 4.9 percent of middle school students were categorized as current e-cigarette users.

While the lawsuit filed by the Jefferson County School District is not the first of its kind, it is the first in Mississippi and should be applauded.

If evidence shows Juul inappropriately targeted teenagers in its marketing, the company should be held responsible. If they are found to be complicit in the skyrocketing use of e-cigarette products, the company should be held responsible.

But, the responsibility does not simply lie with those who make the products. The responsibility is shared by parents, guardians and regulators.

These products have crept into our society as an acceptable alternative to smoking. They are not. Both smoking and vaping come with tremendous health risks, but vaping is newer, cooler and comes without some of the societal side effects, such as smell, that smoking cigarettes carry.

In their filing, attorneys for the Jefferson County School District, claim e-cigarettes marketing and appeal among younger users is undoing years of progress that regulation of other tobacco products has had. 

“This success has been the result of years of litigation and strict regulation,” the lawsuit says. “It is also due to the widespread and mainstream public health message that smoking kills people — a message that Big Tobacco can no longer dispute or contradict. This incredible progress towards eliminating youth tobacco and nicotine use has now largely been reversed due to e-cigarettes and vaping.”

The Jefferson County School District’s lawsuit also targets Altria, which owns Marlboro and other cigarette brands. Altria owns about one-third of Juul.

While representatives for Juul dispute many of the claims made by this lawsuit — and many others — the evidence against the use of e-cigarettes is thankfully growing. 

The Centers for Disease Control in recent years has worked to publish facts about vaping and the use of e-cigarette products to curtail their use.  

The CDC clearly states “the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens and young adults,” and states evidence shows “young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.”

Officials with the CDC also take exception to the way in which e-cigarette products have been marketed. 

“Widespread advertising for these products, including via media for which advertising for conventional tobacco products is prohibited (e.g., TV), and the lower costs of some of these products relative to conventional cigarettes has contributed to the increase in e-cigarette use among youth,” the CDC reports. “Many youth also report using e-cigarettes because they are curious about these new products and because they believe these products to be less harmful than conventional cigarettes.”

So today, I — a parent of a middle school student — appreciate the lead the Jefferson County School District has taken in holding this and other companies responsible. I also appreciate the work of our health officials to study and provide data about what is happening to the youth using these products.

And, I appreciate the work of our local school officials for their work in amending their policies.

Curtailing the growth of e-cigarette use will take far more than teachers standing “bathroom duty.” Fighting this trend will take more education, more data and, if necessary, more litigation and regulation. 

 

Tim Reeves is editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at tim.reeves@vicksburgpost.com.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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