State education board receives policy proposal that bans e-cigarette use on school property

photo by: Associated Press

In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The state’s highest education board may soon take action to help address teenage use of e-cigarettes, also known as “vaping.”

The Kansas State Board of Education received a policy proposal this week from its E-Cigarette/Vaping Task Force that would prohibit the use, possession and promotion of tobacco and e-cigarette products by students and staff on school property. The policy would also prohibit the use of tobacco and e-cigarette products by any visitors on school property.

Such a policy could help keep tobacco products from being around students in Kansas, said Derek Reinhardt, superintendent for Ness City Schools in western Kansas.

“I think this is a good policy as far as what’s best for our kids,” he said Tuesday at the board’s monthly meeting.

In Lawrence, the school district’s tobacco policy appears to already ban such activity. However, the state board’s policy could prohibit it statewide. While the task force proposed the policy as a recommendation to school districts, some board members said they may consider making it a requirement for all school districts.

The task force said that the policy was needed because the number of students who reported trying e-cigarettes is almost twice the number of students who reported trying regular cigarettes, with 48.6% of Kansas high school students surveyed in 2019 reporting they have tried e-cigarette products.

Reinhardt said that his school district has already implemented a similar policy, but it would be good to take it statewide. He said he thought most, if not all, Kansas school districts had such a policy for prohibiting student and staff use. However, he said he had concerns about “community members” using tobacco or e-cigarette products on school property.

One challenge the policy may face is school districts that do not want to police the activity of visitors, Reinhardt said.

“We’ll be asking our building administrators to police one more thing,” he said. “But at the same time, those individuals that may struggle with taking that responsibility on can very easily point at a policy directed from (the state board).”

In his school district, Reinhardt said he had to have several conversations with community members about their use on school grounds, even coming to the point where he needed to threaten calling the sheriff’s office to get them to comply. But about two years after the policy was installed, those community members have learned to leave school premises when they want to smoke, he said.

“That at least gets it away from the school, gets it out from in front of the kids,” he said.

The board is expected to consider approving the policy during its meeting in December.

The proposal comes as many education and health officials from around the country in recent months have raised the alarm on the dangers of the use of e-cigarettes, including addiction and even death. Some have argued the marketing for the e-cigarettes is not regulated, allowing companies to market their products, which often include fruity flavors, to underage users.

The Lawrence district considers teenage e-cigarette use to be an epidemic and has pushed for local governments to raise the age limit to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, which is known as Tobacco 21 or T-21. Although the Douglas County Commission approved a T-21 ordinance, the Lawrence City Commission has not.

The Kansas State Board of Education is not the only state governance group that may take action to address the issue. A group called the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition said it was drafting T-21 legislation to propose to the Kansas Legislature in 2020.

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