Tennessee is leading the way in cracking down on the use of vaping products in its schools, an effort that originated in the Bradley County School system.
The campaign has resulted in legislation sponsored by state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and state Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, after Director of Bradley County Schools Dr. Linda Cash alerted them to the problem.
Both legislators recently presented a plaque to Cash and Bradley County Board of Education Chairman Troy Weathers commemorating passage of the legislation enacted earlier this year.
The legislation expands the definition of vapor products to include visible or non-visible vapors and the substances used to fill vapor cartridges.
In addition to all public and private kindergartens, and elementary and secondary
schools, the bill prohibits "smoking or the use of vapor products in the following places: childcare centers, group-care homes, healthcare facilities, museums, residential treatment facilities for children and youth, youth development centers and facilities, school grounds including any public seating areas such as bleachers used for sporting events, or public restrooms.
Vaping products also may not be used within 100 feet of all public and private kindergartens, elementary schools and secondary schools.
Gardenhire said the legislation defines all vaping products as the same as cigarettes.
“The biggest problem we have is vaping in middle schools and high schools and something needed to be done about it,” Gardenhire said. “We defined all the vaping products in the code, because there wasn't any definition in the code. And second, we defined all the areas that would be included in the legislation that would be prohibited to use vaping products.”
Gardenhire said Tennessee is the first state to attempt to combat vaping near schools. He thanked Cash for alerting them to the health crisis.
“There weren’t any others,” he said. “I checked with the National Conference of State Legislatures and there was no other activity going on at the time about dangerous vaping. We were the first ones, thanks to [Cash], to bring this to our attention to the public and get something done.”
He noted the recent vaping-related deaths that have recently made headlines nationwide since the vaping bill was drafted.
“Since that time, people noticed all these deaths have happened,” Gardenhire said.
Howell said similar bills are making their way through other state legislatures.
“We’ve also noticed that several other states are looking at what Tennessee has done and considering following suit," Howell said.
He also thanked Cash for her effort to fight vaping in schools.
“I think it's significant that nobody knew there was a problem until Linda brought it to us,” Howell said.
Howell also said nicotine in just one vaping cartridge can equal what can be delivered by smoking a whole pack of cigarettes.
“Vaping is having a devastating effect on kids,” Howell said.
Cash added, “We want their parents to explain to them the dangers, but also tell them about the consequences of their actions."
As a result, she said it is vital parents are aware of the potential health effects vaping can cause, especially if the cartridges used to deliver nicotine via e-cigarettes are infused with THC-laced substances.
The e-cigarettes and the cartridges contained within can sometimes look innocuous, with many resembling ink pens or flash drives, enabling them to hide in plain site.
Cash said scores of them have been confiscated at Bradley Central High School, which alerted her to the growing problem over the past year.
Bradley County School Board Chairman Troy Weathers also said parents need to be more aware of the dangers of vaping. Even more troubling, some parents use e-cigarettes, which their children may interpret as safe to use.
“I think there's so many parents who don't know students are doing it,” he said. “And that's what’s scary. I've always said, ‘You can't put chemicals in your body and think it's OK.’”
Weathers said he thinks the vaping bill is the first step in trying to make a change in convincing students and their parents of the dangers of vaping.
“Someday this will go away, and our students will be protected,” Weathers said. “We have to try to prohibit this terrible thing happening to our students today before they get hooked on the nicotine and all the other things that’s put in there. We can't allow that to happen if we can.”