High schoolers from Brevard County will head to Tallahassee next week to ask lawmakers to impose stricter regulations on vaping companies, to address the surge in discipline problems they’ve seen in their schools.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, student government leaders presented their plan requesting legislators to require vaping companies to disclose the ingredients in e-liquid they sell, and require them to provide money for anti-vaping education through organizations like Tobacco Free Florida.
Bills to curtail vaping among youth have so far met support in the Florida Legislature, including Senate Bill 1618 that would raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products including e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, and prohibit selling tobacco products in vending machines. Another, House Bill 7027, would ban vaping in indoor workplaces.
“If you don’t think kids are getting addicted at 12,13 and 14, you are wrong,” Melbourne Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield said at a hearing earlier this month. “If we don’t stop our young kids now from getting it, it is going to get worse. They are marketing this product to our kids. We need to save the future of our own young people, and keep this product out of their hands.”
The U.S. Surgeon General declared vaping among youths an epidemic in December. More than 3 million high school students in the United States vape, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Leaders in the Brevard school district have said the new trend is an epidemic in local schools as well.
“It’s a huge issue,” said school board chair Tina Descovich. “Your everyday, normal, average kids are sticking THC oil in [the vape pens] and bringing them to school and getting expelled.”
An article by FLORIDA TODAY published in January found that vaping has led to widespread discipline problems.
If a student is caught with a vape pen with nicotine they are given a day of out-of-school suspension. If they’re caught with a vape pen with cannabis oil or THC oil they may face felony charges and be transferred to an alternative learning center, a facility usually reserved for students with serious behavioral problems.
The number of referrals given this year for tobacco possession at Brevard schools is five times that of last year, from 43 to 224. Suspensions are up from 40 to 206, according to data from the district.
Referrals for drug possession, including electronic cigarettes with cannabis oil, are up from 33 to 66, and suspensions from 33 to 68. Sixty students were expelled and transferred to alternative learning centers.
To address the growing problem, the school district has hosted parent information nights and student assemblies, and partnered with the sheriff’s office and city police departments to hand out citations and bring in drug-sniffing dogs to schools.
Student government officials will travel to Tallahassee April 4 to present their proposal to legislators.
Caroline Glenn/Florida Today