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Schools, law enforcement seek action on teen vaping

May 24, 2019

Taking a Juul hit between classes could get more difficult in Beaver Dam.

School and law enforcement officials are expressing concern over what they say is a massive rise in vaping among students this school year. In Beaver Dam, an ordinance change is being considered that would be more strict on minors using electronic cigarette devices, where users inhale a vapor created from a liquid. The substance commonly includes nicotine, but doesn’t have to.

“We want to get the message out to them and their parents that this isn’t the harmless substance it’s made out to be,” said high school Principal Crystal Bates.

Vaping, which has exploded as an industry, is new and the long-term health effects are unknown as research continues. Many users prefer vaping as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Others just like the experience, whether it’s the nicotine rush or the flavoring found in the vapor. Studies found the toxic substances in cigarette smoke are absent or virtually non-existent in vapor. The nicotine often found is, of course, an addictive substance, which can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms. The devices come in all shapes, sizes and names.

It is illegal for someone under 18 to purchase an electronic cigarette product. Smokes on the Water, a shop in downtown Beaver Dam, said its policy is to check IDs and send anyone out who is underage or whose face doesn’t match the identification.

Last year, the city set a ban on vaping in public places where smoking was also prohibited, including bars and restaurants.

Using vape devices is against the student handbook and students can face in-school consequences if caught. Kevin Rohde, the school liaison officer, said it’s harder to catch students using a device, often because they will go into the bathrooms to use them where there are no cameras.

“It’s a vaporized substance,” Bates said. “If you walk in and someone’s smoking, you can smell it. There’s a very distinct odor.” She said students smoking cigarettes is a rare issue these days.

The Beaver Dam Common Council’s administrative committee tabled a potential new ordinance that would keep people under 18 from having such devices. Current city code outlines that children may not possess cigarettes or tobacco products, which vaping devices are not. Right now, Rohde said, he can give a citation if the juice in a product contains nicotine.

“Of course, that’s the hard part to prove, if there’s nicotine in there or not,” he said. There is no test the school can do on-site to prove there is nicotine in the product. They can test any confiscated vape device for THC, but there haven’t been any positive cases of that yet.

City Attorney Maryann Schacht said she is continuing to do research about the possible ordinance and looking at what other communities do.

When the school confiscates a vape device from a student, they reach out to the parents, who usually ask the school to just destroy the device. It can also be kept as evidence if Rohde is involved.

Bates said vaping has been an issue more than ever this year. She said students are getting hooked on the idea of vaping, nonchalantly viewing it as harmless, even using it as a tool to relieve stress. The school is talking to students and will have a safety team work on educating them. Bates said the school tries to turn the first time a student is caught into an educational opportunity.

“If they’re struggling and they’re handling stress in this manner, we need them to know that there are better ways to handle those pieces,” Bates said.

Education efforts include social media. They will also include conversations with parents. Bates said there is a learning curve for them as well because parents may not even know what a vape device is or how to identify one.

The school has not grabbed the exact numbers on students vaping yet, but reviews them after each school year.

“We just want our kids to make healthy choices,” Bates said.

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