Ensuring Schools Remain Tobacco-Free

February 28, 2019|1:37 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

According to CDC and FDA, e-cigarette use increased 78 percent among high school students between 2017 and 2018, resulting in 1.5 million more young e-cigarette smokers in the United States over the course of the past year. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams (alumnus-IN) described the increase in e-cigarette use among young people as an epidemic, releasing a public statement and an advisory.

E-cigarettes are devices that often resemble cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and even USB flash drives that deliver nicotine, flavors, or other substances to users in the form of a vapor or aerosol. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, toxic to fetuses, harmful to adolescent brain development, and a health danger for pregnant women. E-cigarette aerosol can also contain cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals like lead, and volatile organic compounds. Evidence shows that even those without nicotine are harmful to the lungs.

States and territories are working to discourage the use of and prevent access to e-cigarettes by youth. For example, Minnesota recently updated its School E-Cigarette Toolkit, while state legislatures consider bills restricting the purchase, sale, and use of e-cigarettes. Smoke-free air laws have long been recognized as an evidence-based method to reduce the use of combustible tobacco and promote smoking cessation by altering social norms of tobacco use. In his 2016 report on e-cigarettes and youth, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy proposed that e-cigarettes be included in these policies at the state level. Of particular importance is legislation prohibiting the use of e-cigarette products in places frequented by children and young adults, including public and private schools. Below is an overview of recent state legislative activity restricting the use of e-cigarettes and tobacco products on public and private school property.

Many states are considering bills that would add e-cigarettes and components of electronic nicotine devices (i.e. cartridges and liquids) to the list of products prohibited on public and private school property. Maine introduced a bill prohibiting the possession of electronic smoking devices in elementary or secondary schools. Mississippi introduced companion bills (HB 1486 and SB 2537) prohibiting students of any high school, junior high school, middle school, or elementary school from possessing an alternative nicotine product or components thereof on any educational property. A Montana bill would prohibit vapor products or alternative nicotine products in a public school building or on public school property. Tennessee introduced two bills (SB 26 and HB 97) prohibiting smoking or the use of vapor products in all public and private kindergartens, elementary, and secondary schools with limited exceptions for adult staff members. West Virginia proposed a bill that would add a prohibition on the use of e-cigarettes in addition to alternative nicotine products or vapor products in certain areas of certain public schools.

The Minnesota legislature is considering companion bills (HF 331 and SF 463) which would prohibit the inhalation or exhalation of aerosol from an electronic nicotine delivery device in charter schools as well as public schools. An Oklahoma bill prohibiting the use of vapor products in or on an educational facility that offers early childhood education programs or in which children in grades kindergarten through twelve are education was reported favorably out of the senate. This bill would also prohibit vapor products in school vehicles and at any school-sponsored or school-sanctioned event or activity.

The Virginia House and Senate passed companion bills (SB 1295 and HB 2384) requiring each school board to develop and implement a policy to prohibit the use and distribution of any tobacco product or nicotine vapor product on a school bus, on school property, or at an on-site or off-site school-sponsored activity. Previous law only addressed electronic cigarettes. Similarly, South Carolina proposed legislation requiring every local school district to adopt, implement, and enforce a written policy prohibiting the use of any tobacco product or alternative nicotine product by any person in school buildings, facilities, campuses, and in or on any other school property. The bill would prohibit use of an alternative nicotine product by persons attending a school-sponsored event.

Schools are in a unique position to promote a lifestyle free from vaping and other tobacco product use. Because young people spend so much time at school, and because tobacco product use almost always starts before age 18, ensuring school campuses that are free from the use of all tobacco products have become a focus for state lawmakers. State health agencies have an opportunity to partner with departments of education to advocate for and promote effective legislation to address the use and possession of tobacco products and e-cigarettes by young adults and children in schools. ASTHO will continue to track state legislative activity on this important public health issue.

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