Kansas, national school board groups gear up to reduce vaping among students

As Kansas education leaders work on efforts to curb the use of e-cigarettes by students, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) has announced its support in Congress of The Smoke-Free Schools Act of 2019.

The bi-partisan measure was recently introduced by U. S. Reps. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., Chris Stewart, R-Utah and Haley Stevens D-Mich. The legislation is vital to helping school districts and local education agencies address the rapid increase of e-cigarette usage in schools, NSBA said. An identical bill has been filed in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Tom Udall, D-N.M.

The measure clarifies that e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine devices should be included in smoking bans in schools and childcare facilities; establishes findings about the dangers of nicotine addiction for youths and highlights Congress’s role in discouraging tobacco use by young people.

“We are in the midst of an adolescent tobacco epidemic,” Rep. Engel said. “Too many children are being exposed to e-cigarettes in schools, threatening the progress we have made in reducing tobacco use. This bill provides our teachers and school administrators with federal support to tackle this public health crisis and prevent another generation from becoming addicted to nicotine,” he said. Here is a link to a news release about the bill.

“The Smoke-Free Schools Act of 2019 allows school districts greater flexibility in addressing a key component of the Every Student Succeeds Act — to foster healthy, supportive, and drug-free schools that support academic achievement for our children,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director and CEO of NSBA. “The National School Boards Association appreciates the leadership of Congressman Engel, Congressman Stewart and Congresswoman Stevens in support of healthy and safe learning environments for our nation’s public school students.”

E-cigarette use increased 48 percent among middle school students and 78 percent among high school students between 2017 and 2018, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Currently, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students across the United States used e-cigarettes in 2018. These increases have led the Surgeon General and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to label this a public health epidemic.

The 2017 Kansas Youth Risk Factors Survey shows one in three (or 34.8 percent) Kansas high school students have tried e-cigarettes and one in 10 (or 10.6 percent) were current users.

In Kansas, a state Task Force on Vaping/E-Cigarettes in Schools is working on distributing education and awareness resources and materials to school districts in time for the mid-August beginning of the 2019-2020 school year. Other tasks include developing state policy; providing for regulation and enforcement of vaping devices; adding vaping to the state health standards; expanding education and awareness; and development of the central web-based information hub.

The task force will make a presentation to the State Board of Education on Tue. Aug. 13.

Task Force members have noted that the beginning of the school year is a hectic time for boards and administrators but reiterated the urgency of the public health impacts of the practice. KASB can advise boards and districts who wish to adopt or strengthen anti-smoking and anti-vaping policies. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment offers a “Kansas Vape Free Schools Toolkit” here.

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