The 2020 legislative session recently got under way, and lawmakers are considering options to stop vaping.
Meanwhile, schools and cities are working to address vaping on their own.
Educational institutions across the Northside have implemented zero-tolerance policies to curb the use of e-cigarettes on campuses. Meanwhile, cities like Brandon and Flowood have passed outright bans on teen vaping to give police officers and youth court leaders a tool to deal with the problem.
Vaping and vaping-related illness continues to be on the rise across the state and nation.
However, some school leaders say efforts to reduce teen use have paid off.
Julia Chadwick, head of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Upper School, said she’s spoken to students about vaping, and they tell her they’re noticing fewer and fewer of their classmates doing it.
She credits the proliferation of news stories highlighting vaping illness among teens, as well as school efforts to inform students on the dangers of vaping.
“If you just tell them no, they won’t listen. But for our students, if you show them the science behind it, they will,” she said.
St. Joseph Catholic School Principal Dena Kinsey said vaping peaked last year and has not been as prevalent since.
“We addressed it in assemblies and in parent communications. I hung up anti-vaping posters in the bathrooms all over campus. Teachers talked about it in class,” she said.
Like Chadwick, Kinsey said recent reports on vaping illness and vaping-related death likely have had a greater impact on shaping students’ attitudes toward e-cigarettes than have the school’s actions.
“People started getting sick and dying and it was all over the national news,” she said. “I feel like that had a bigger impact than anything we could say despite the fact that we’d been warning them about illness.
“While I know it’s still happening, I’ve not seen or heard much about it this year.”
Educators would not discuss individual actions taken against students. However, most would discuss consequences for vaping.
At Jackson Academy (JA), for instance, students caught vaping can face on or off-campus suspension.
Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Jackson Preparatory School and Jackson Public Schools also have zero-tolerance policies.
Schools are taking other steps to crack down on vaping as well. Vaping detectors have been installed in all student restrooms at Madison Central High School.
The detectors were $1,000 each and are part of a pilot program implemented by the Madison County School District, Director of Communications Gene Wright said.
“When the detectors go off, they send a text message to the principal so he can investigate,” she said. “We are hopeful that having these detectors … serve as a deterrent for students who may be considering making a bad choice.
“The safety and health of our students is our top priority.”
Educators also are wanting to inform parents on the dangers of vaping.
Next week, Jackson Prep will host Enrich Mississippi, which will be putting on its first ever community-wide vaping summit.
The summit is slated for February 5, and comes weeks after the school hosted a meeting of the Jackson Association of Independent Schools (JAIS), where vaping was a major part of the discussion.
“Experts in the field of underage vaping spoke about the dangers of vaping and providing those in attendance with tools to combat vaping,” said Prep Director of Communications Ryan Sherman.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 380 “confirmed and probably cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use” through September 2019, the most recent data available.
In Mississippi, 11 cases of vaping-related illness were reported in 2019, including one death, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH).
According to the state department’s website, most of the cases involved individuals vaping cannabis products with THC. The CDC believes the cause of the illness could be related to a chemical known as “vitamin E acetate,” which is added to vaping products containing THC, MSDH states.
Symptoms of vaping illness include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and fatigue, MSDH states.
In an effort to curb youth vaping, the cities of Brandon and Flowood have both passed ordinances prohibiting youth vaping.
The ordinances were passed in December and make it illegal for children 18 and under and students 21 and under, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Fines and penalties range from $50 for the first offense to $250 and 60 hours of community service for the second.
“If we catch you with vape, you will get a summons to youth court,” said Flowood Police Chief Ricky McMillian.
The chief said the rules were passed in part due to vaping illnesses being reported at some Rankin County schools.
“The biggest thing we want to do is education. If
Officers will be able to cite students who are seen vaping in public or in possession of vaping material. “We have to see the kids using it for it to be effective,” he said. “We have to have probable cause.”
Since the implementation, Flowood reports only one student being arrested.
It was unclear whether the cities of Jackson, Madison or Ridgeland were considering similar ordinances.
Jackson Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote said it was something the city should look into, but said he would need more details before commenting.
Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, the council president, also would support a teen ban on vaping. “We need to do everything we can to protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens,” she said.
In 2015, Ridgeland amended its smoking ordinance to prohibit vaping in workplaces and public places. However, the amendment did not address teen use.
Alderman at-Large D.I. Smith didn’t know if the city was considering a teen vaping policy, but agreed that vaping should be prohibited for minors.
“The same rules that apply for smoking should apply for vaping,” he said.
Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler expects the city to pass an ordinance addressing teen vaping in the coming weeks.
“We absolutely looking at it and are discussing it at a work session soon, once we get all of our information together,” she said.
Butler said the city has been pulling other municipal ordinances for review and is having its legal team review them now.
Cities like Madison, Jackson and Ridgeland, though, might not have to tackle the issue, though, thanks to state and federal leadership.
Vaping legislation likely also will be introduced during the 2020 legislative session. The session recently got under way and some lawmakers are considering introducing anti-vaping legislation.
District 29 Sen. David Blount plans to meet with the state department of health, the American Lung Association and other groups to discuss proposals.
Among ideas, Blount told the Sun in December that he was considering legislation that would add a tax on vaping products.
According to 2019 article from Time magazine, other states, including New York, Michigan, Rhode Island, Oregon and Montana, have implemented bans on the sale of flavored vaping products either through legislation or executive order. The state of California, meanwhile, is planning to spend $20 million on an anti-vaping campaign.
Overshadowing that, according to a December 2019 New York Times article, the U.S. House and Senate have approved raising the minimum age to purchase e-cigarettes and tobacco to 21.
President Donald Trump says he will sign the measure into law.
The 2020 Vaping Summit is 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, February 5, at the Jackson Prep Centre for Arts & Leadership. For more information, log onto www.enrichms.org.