Do Your Policies Ban E-Cigarettes on Campus?

California schools are not immune from the increased use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), which include e-cigarettes, e-hookahs, and other vapor-emitting devices that contain liquid nicotine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of high school students who have used e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, from 4.7 percent to 10 percent. (CDC, Notes From the Field: Electronic Cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students—United States (Sept. 6, 2013).) E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and are marketed as the “healthier” alternative to tobacco cigarettes. However, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson urges school districts to adopt policies that prohibit the use of ENDS to protect youth from becoming addicted to nicotine and thus at greater risk for using tobacco. (Cal. Department of Education, Adopting Policy Prohibiting Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (March 19, 2014).)

The versatility of ENDS also presents a problem to school officials. If ENDS are used for drugs such as marijuana, school officials will not be able to identify the drug being administered. Recent reports indicate the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes, which can be purchased to refill e-cigarettes, poses health risks because of its high toxicity. (Matt Richtel, Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes, THE NEW YORK TIMES (March 23, 2014).) The liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can cause vomiting and seizures, and can be lethal when ingested or absorbed through the skin even in small amounts. (Id.)

School districts may ban e-cigarettes from their campuses under California law. Health and Safety Code section 119405 prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Education Code section 48901 states, “No school shall permit the smoking or use of tobacco, or any product containing tobacco or nicotine products, by pupils of the school while the pupils are on campus, or while attending school sponsored activities or while under the supervision and control of school district employees.” This prohibition encompasses both tobacco and nicotine products and includes e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes complicate the traditional definitions used in school district policies that prohibit smoking on campus. School districts’ policies banning the smoking and tobacco products on school grounds may not include non-tobacco products. Consequently, e-cigarettes may not fall into the proscribed category because they do not contain tobacco. In response to the growing use of e-cigarettes districts should ensure their policies prohibit the use of nicotine products and, more specifically, e-cigarettes and all nicotine delivery devices. The approaching new school year offers an opportunity to review and revise policies to address this alarming trend.

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