School officials describe new e-cigarette ban as a ‘good step’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation two weeks ago banning the use of e-cigarettes on all school grounds statewide.

The decision comes as e-cigarette use continues to climb at rapid rates. According to the New York State Department of Health, e-cigarette use among high school students practically doubled from 2014 to 2016, from 10.5 percent of students using them to 20.6 percent.

“Nicotine use in any form has shown to be damaging to teens and this measure will close a dangerous loophole that allows e-cigarettes to be used in New York schools,” Gov. Cuomo said in a release. “This measure will further this administration’s efforts to combat teen smoking in all its forms and help create a stronger, healthier New York for all.”

The move, which won’t change much for local districts as they already have policies in place banning e-cigarettes, was praised by North Fork school administrators.

“I’m happy the governor took that step to protect the health of our students,” Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, said. He said the governor’s step brings awareness “to the dangers of any and all tobacco products.”

E-cigarettes and similar products, such as vape pens, aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Suffolk County previously set a minimum age of 21 for purchasing regular and e-cigarettes and made it illegal to use the electronic products indoors.

The most popular form of the vaping devices, e-cigarettes usually have a battery, a heating element and storage area to hold the liquid, which typically contains nicotine. The cigarettes come in flavors such as fruit and chocolate and also often contain chemicals like propylene glycol or glycerin.

“We don’t want to see students of any age, in this case predominantly middle and high school students, about to start a habit that’s not going to be a good habit for life,” David Gamberg, superintendent of Southold and Greenport school districts, said. “It’s important to discourage this activity from taking place.”

Mr. Gamberg said he hasn’t seen a notable increase in the number of students using e-cigarettes in recent years, but noted that both districts have had instances of some students using them in the past.

Mr. Poole, who began his career at Shoreham-Wading River only last month, said he can’t speak for SWR’s statistics, but noted that he has seen e-cigarettes and vape pens being used more frequently in general.

Both administrators said enforcement policies are in place, but actions differ depending on individual situations. At Mattituck High School, possession or use is treated the same as drug paraphernalia, resulting in a suspension since the administration is unable to determine whether the vapor being used is a narcotic or not, principal Shawn Petretti said.

He added that the district saw a spike in use two years ago and a decline in use during the last school year.

Similarly, the Riverhead school district treats use of regular cigarettes and e-cigarettes the same way, according to high school principal Charles Regan. He said school officials confiscate between one and three devices a year.

“They’ve been banned from the district in years past and they’re still going to be banned,” Mr. Poole said. “I’m not sure if the government mandate impacts us too much, but I welcome it as a good step. It sends a good message of the dangers of e-cigarettes to kids.”

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File stock image: Medical professionals are concerned e-cigarettes have been glamorized and targeted toward young people. (Credit: Getty)