PITTSBURGH - School administrators told Channel 11 they are changing school policies because of students using e-cigarettes at school. The FDA reports students are using vapes and Juuls and getting addicted to nicotine and that it is an epidemic. Schools in our area confirmed this problem and some are now saying state law needs to change.
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Channel 11 spoke to a student, administrators, doctors and a lawmaker about vaping in local school districts. They all wanted to tell us about what a problem it has become, and why it worries them.
"We both see kids that either have asthma that's poorly controlled because they're vaping or chronic cough because they're vaping or smoking," said UPMC doctor Daniel Weiner. "I think this is just the beginning of what we're going to see."
One student at Mount Pleasant High School told us it makes students who are not vaping uncomfortable at school.
"Those who don’t want to vape or juul, they’ll get pressured into it," said Bryce Jaworski. "Then that’ll lead to bullying because they’re not cool enough to vape."
Schools in six counties told Channel 11 students as young as sixth grade are using vapes or Juuls full of nicotine. Mount Pleasant principal Robert Gumbita wanted to help students stop using Juuls, but realized suspensions weren't working. He called a former student, State Representative Mike Reece.
State law right now, only makes it illegal for kids under 18 to have tobacco products. The law says nothing about nicotine.
"It’s very hard for us to mandate at that point that a kid go to a Smokeless Saturday or a program to get off of it when there’s no - nothing behind it," said Gumbita.
Representative Reece introduced legislation last year to include the words nicotine and nicotine products in state law.
"It also would give the opportunity for the school administrator and the local district judge, along with the parents, to work out an agreement, perhaps a youth workgroup, or something that would be more beneficial for the community," said Reece.
The bill passed unanimously in the House but not in the Senate. His colleagues plan to introduce it again this year.
Right now, the Mount Pleasant District is trying to educate students as young as elementary school. Norvelt Elementary principal John Campbell is using a grant from the Westmoreland County Drug and Alcohol Commission to start a new program. The program will revisit curriculum for tobacco and alcohol units from upper elementary school students, and add vaping curriculum to those lessons.
Statement from Juul
“JUUL Labs shares a common goal with policy makers, regulators, parents, school officials, and community stakeholders – preventing youth from initiating on nicotine. We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated. As we said before, our intent was never to have youth use JUUL products. We have taken dramatic action to contribute to solve this problem, which is why we implemented the JUUL Labs Action Plan to address underage use of JUUL products.
“We suspended the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to traditional retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our industry leading site, eliminated our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use. We are committed to working with lawmakers, the Surgeon General, FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in this effort.
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