Wake County Public School System bans use of electronic cigarettes on campus

Kaanchee Gandhi, Editor-in-Chief

Electronic cigarette use on school property was banned by the Wake County school board Feb. 4 after their increase in use by minors sparked concern amongst the community.

“[Their ban is] understandable. It would have affected me in the past because I smoked e-cigarettes in class a lot. I would just put it in the palm of my hand; teachers wouldn’t notice,” said Eli Griffith, senior. “The decision makes sense from the view of a parent or administrator.”

Electronic cigarettes, referred to as e-cigarettes, are battery operated, plastic inhalers that vaporize a liquid solution containing a mixture of nicotine and flavorings producing an inhallable vapor. E-cigarettes are often used by smokers to curve nicotine addictions and wean off cigarettes. While the vaporizers contain significantly less harmful chemicals than regular cigarettes, little research has been done on their long term health effects.

“I stopped smoking them this year after my friend showed me a video that said the liquid from e-cigarettes gets in your lungs and it’s bad for you. I think they’re helpful for someone trying to get off of cigarettes, though,” said Griffith.

As of right now, there are no sweeping bans in place on where e-cigarettes can and cannot be vaped. Because of their lack of odor and quickly disappearing smoke, e-cig smokers often go unnoticed by restaurant owners, private employers and even school administration. Lori Lair, Digital Media teacher, recounts one of her experiences with e-cigarettes prior to the ban:

“There was a basketball game going on and I walked into the restroom. There was a younger girl there with her back turned towards me and I could see smoke rising. I said to her, ‘Hey you can’t smoke in here,’ then she said, ‘I’m not smoking, it’s an e-cig.’ I didn’t know what to do at the time because for one, she might not have been a student, and I also didn’t know if they were allowed on school property or not. I know we’re tobacco free but there’s no tobacco in an e-cigarette. I know even an adult would not be allowed to smoke on campus but there are a lot of places where e-cigs are allowed where cigarettes aren’t. Like any new technology, they’re not sure what to do about them yet,” said Lair.

There is no federal law yet prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, but North Carolina did ban the sale of them to minors in August of last year. Many people, however, point out that e-cigarettes often seem to be aimed at a younger generation offering a variety of flavors such as vanilla and blueberry. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of e-cigarettes amongst minors shifted from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012 and is continuing to grow steadily as more and more teens are exposed to the device.

“I don’t smoke cigarettes because I have asthma. I started smoking e-cigarettes last year after a friend introduced me to them,” said Griffith, whose favorite flavor is Fireball. “They’re just kinda cool, you can do smoke tricks with them.”

Wake County Schools previously had no explicit guidelines on how to handle the use of e-cigarettes on campus, but Athens has treated them as tobacco products.

“We handle the use of e-cigarettes according to the conduct which bans the use of any tobacco product or anything reasonably associated with tobacco products. E-cigarettes would fall under those tobacco guidelines,” said Steven Katz, assistant principal. “We haven’t had many issues with it in the past, but when we do, we just follow the policy.”

In addition to banning electronic cigarettes, Wake County also amended its consequence policy for Level I offenses. Students will now receive in-school suspension rather than out-of-school suspension for Level I offenses such as dress code violation and now e-cigarette use.

“Even though they have their positive uses for people trying to quit smoking, having [electronic cigarettes] on campus would be a disruption. We could be sending an unintentional message that they are safe and we wouldn’t want to do that,” said Lair. “There are more bad things in cigarettes than just tobacco. Granted, if someones going to smoke, they’ll still smoke, but we don’t want to encourage the behavior in students.”