JEFFERSON CITY — Bills that would prevent vaping in schools and increase student awareness of the dangers of vaping won support from students, school administrators and medical professionals in a hearing Tuesday.
HB 1682 would extend an existing law that bans the use of tobacco products inside of schools to include the use of vapor products, such as JUULs and other e-cigarettes. HB 1808 would require the state Board of Education to change existing health learning standards to include instruction on the effects of using vapor products when schools teach about tobacco.
Students have been pushing for the measures, which were both sponsored by Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles.
Vaping ban inside schools
Versailles High School students Kyrstin Thurman and Justin Hamrick shared statistics about the dangers of vaping and its impacts on children and teens nationwide as they voiced support for the ban on using vaping products in schools.
Thurman said in the 2018-19 school year, her school had 19 vaping-related disciplinary actions. In the current school year, she said there have already been 18 vaping-related disciplinary actions with several months left in the year.
“As students, we see more than anyone else in the school the dangers of vaping in our peers and our friends,” Thurman said. “We have a growing concern for our generation and we really are (supporting the bill) because we care about our generation and we don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
Michael Reid, representing the Missouri School Boards’ Association, also supported the bill.
He said while the organization already has an anti-vaping policy that is available to members if they choose to adhere to it, the proposed legislation would solidify that policy. Reid said he does not currently know how many school districts follow the association’s policy.
Heidi Sutherland, speaking on behalf of the Missouri State Medical Association in support of HB 1682, said her organization’s members — physicians across Missouri — already have a policy against flavored vaping products and hope to prevent minors from vaping.
“(Members) acknowledge that vapor products can help people quit smoking who are already addicted and are using tobacco products like cigarettes,” Sutherland said. “But they want to keep it out of the hands of minors as much as possible because it poses a health risk.”
Other organizations also supported the bill, including BJC HealthCare, Cox Healthcare and the School Administrators Association.
No one testified in opposition to the bill, but some lawmakers expressed concerns.
Some lawmakers wondered why, if many schools already have anti-vaping policies, the law is needed. Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, was concerned about what, specifically, the bill was meant to achieve.
“So there’s no odor. There’s no risk of secondhand smoke,” he said. “What is the underlying public policy purpose?”
Wood said banning vaping products on school grounds would be a statement to the public that vaping has potential dangers and these steps would ensure no one could set a poor example by vaping in front of children.
Vaping education standards
A bill that would require Department of Elementary and Secondary Education schools to revise education standards to include instruction about the effects of vaping when teaching about the use and effects of tobacco products also garnered strong support.
Nevada High School junior Lucas Corbin told the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee that since he has taken an interest in the issue of vaping, he has noticed it happening much more frequently than before.
“In the past week alone, I’ve seen five kids vaping in class — that’s in class — three kids at after-school activities, and several vaping after school on their way home. And countless in the bathroom,” Corbin said. “Students leave to use the bathroom for upwards of 10 minutes. Everyone knows what they’re doing, both students and teachers.”
Eden Fisher, another junior from Nevada High School, and Nevada High School Principal William Darter also voiced support for the bill. Darter said addiction to vapor products is less visible than cigarette addiction, for example, because so little is known about the true harms of vaping.
“The prevailing message is that these products are ‘cool’ to our young people,” Darter said. “Due to their ease of access, their ability to hide them while they’re being used and their secretive nature, vaping products add a level of mystery that is appealing to students.”
Darter said the proposed legislation would show that the state believes student lives are worth fighting for.
The Missouri National Education Association also supports the bill. Otto Fajen, speaking on behalf of the MNEA, said the organization believes all substance abuse harms children and supports educating students about the possible effects of tobacco and other similar products. Cox Healthcare and the Missouri School Boards’ Association also supported implementing new education standards that cover vapor products.
According to state estimates, revising the health learning standards would cost about $100,000 in 2021.
Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, was concerned about over-regulating education.
“I don’t want the kiddos smoking and vaping. But they’re going to do it, and I think it’s the parents’ prerogative to train their kiddos,” Bailey said. “Sometimes I feel in education we overreach so much where we get into the personal lives.”
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