Editorial: Schools should take a serious look at e-cigarette use

Here’s what everyone needs to know about nicotine in any form, according to county health department commissioner Dr. James Tomarken: “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and recent research suggests nicotine exposure may also prime the brain to become addicted to other substances. We all know the younger one starts the easier it is to get addicted, the longer they’ll be addicted and the harder it is to stop the addiction.”

Dr. Tomarken and other health experts are also concerned that electronic cigarettes, which contain liquid nicotine, are being targeted bu manufacturers to “very young” children.

Unlike actual cigarettes, e-cigarettes can be smoked discreetly. They are odorless, don’t require matches or a lighter and can be easily hidden. And kids, as our story’s headline reads, tell us they’re smoked everywhere. That includes during class, in the cafeteria and in bedrooms and basements at home.

The addictive nature of nicotine is well-established. And because e-cigarettes make it much easier to puff away undetected, it’s conceivable that they could encourage kids to “light up” more often than they might if tobacco were the only smoke around.

Parents, teachers and administrators in schools across the U.S. are on the front lines of this battle against a money grab suspected of targeting kids.

Locally, the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district is taking an unconventional approach to curbing the use of e-cigarettes. Rather than treating them as equivalent to traditional tobacco cigarettes, as other districts have, it has focused on deterring their use by classifying e-cigarettes as narcotics. According to Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti, students found with liquid vapor devices face punishments as severe as those caught with narcotics or drug paraphernalia.

While those in other districts might consider such a policy draconian, Mattituck-Cutchogue administrators reason that they’re in no position to determine whether a student is smoking nicotine or, say, liquid THC, the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana. And Mr. Petretti says the school has seen a decline in e-cigarette use since last year, although there have been some suspensions.

It’s up to individual school districts to decide how to curb use of e-cigarettes on and around their campuses. What’s clear is that the trend needs to be taken seriously.