The E-cigarette fad among teens presents challenges for administrators and legislators

By Sam Barton , Editor-in-Chief

Teenagers love to be a part of the latest fad. Whether it’s the newest Jordan shoe product, an ironic T-shirt featuring a cat in space, or a phone app that involves a pixelated bird navigating pipes, fads spread like wildfire through Fairmont High School.

The newest fad is of a more questionable nature, however, as some Fairmont teens are rushing to try E-cigarettes and other forms of electronic vaping devices. These devices generally use a heating element to vaporize a liquid solution that usually contains a mixture of nicotine and flavorings, although nicotine-free solutions are available.

It can cost less than $20 to buy a basic E-cigarette or vaping device. Currently, there is no law in Ohio regulating the purchase or possession of E-cigarettes, but a bill has passed the State House of Representatives and the Senate that would change that. As of now, however, these products can be purchased or possessed by anyone.

However, the private companies that manufacture E-cigarettes have set an age requirement of 18 to purchase an E-cig. Despite this industry-imposed requirement, scores of Fairmont students have managed to get their hands on E-cigarettes.

Principal Dan VonHandorf has had to deal with this issue first-hand. “From the kids we’ve talked to, they don’t see a downside to using E-cigarettes because they feel like they aren’t as bad as tobacco,” he said. “The laws over E-cigs aren’t clear yet, and parents don’t know what they are or if their kids have them.”

The problem faced by administrators is that E-cigarettes have become so popular so quickly that there is no rule that addresses them specifically in the Student Handbook. “The current policy deals with tobacco and tobacco-look-alike products,” said VonHandorf, who calls E-cigarettes “versatile devices.”

Fairmont has categorized E-cigs as “drug/tobacco paraphernalia,” according to VonHandorf, meaning that possession or use of E-cigarettes or vapor products is considered the same as cigarettes, dip or any other form of tobacco. He noted that E-cigarettes will be mentioned specifically in the Student Handbook next year.

“E-cigarettes are an interesting animal,” said VonHandorf. “The Montgomery County Drug Task Force came to Fairmont and spoke to Kettering teachers and administrators about them. They categorized E-cigarettes as drug paraphernalia because you can put anything in them. Some kids use E-cigarettes for water vapor, others for nicotine, and others for THC,” the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

The concern is that an E-cigarette or vapor device is simply a substance-delivery system, and many different substances can be put into it. “A person standing on a street corner smoking an E-cigarette could be smoking water vapor or heroine – it’s hard to tell the difference,” said VonHandorf.

A senior was one of the first students to test Fairmont’s disciplinary policy regarding E-cigs. The 17-year-old boy was caught smoking an E-cig on a Kettering school bus on the way to an extracurricular activity, and he told The Flyer he was required to attend four KATEP (Kettering Alcohol and Tobacco Education Program) classes as a consequence.

“I like flavor and I like doing something when I’m bored,” said the senior. “Depending on the level of nicotine, E-cigs can give you a buzz like any tobacco product without harming your body as much as like dip, for example. I feel like dip is disgusting.”

However, he said he feels that the punishment didn’t fit the offense. “I feel like it should’ve been less. I had to go to four smoking classes to learn why smoking is bad,” said the senior. “But everything that I learned was about cigarettes and dip, telling you about how bad those were.” Principal VonHandorf mentioned his intention to adjust the KATEP class system to include information on E-cigarettes.

The problem is that they are used for other drugs besides the tobacco products.”

— Officer Carla Sacher

The senior who was disciplined also said he feels the lack of a specific rule banning E-cigs at Fairmont made his situation unfair. “I’m not for legalizing them at school or anything, but I don’t think that I should have gotten in trouble. I think it was blown out proportion because it was a first-time offense on something wasn’t technically against the rules yet,” said the senior. “I was caught on a bus video, and they said that since they didn’t take my E-cig at the time, it could’ve been anything in my E-cig.”

Senior Caitlin Sinks has a different perspective on E-cigs. “People just use them because they think that they look cool,” said Sinks. “They have somehow managed to become ‘popular,’ and now every social lemming at Fairmont is determined to look like a thug with their E-cig.”

Kettering Police Officer Carla Sacher, a resource officer at Fairmont High School, says state law is catching up with the E-cig trend. “Up until this point, there have been no laws regulating E-cigarettes, but that’s going to change, probably within the next couple of months,” she said. “There’s a bill that has passed through the House and the Senate and it’s on the governor’s desk.”

She said the new law will treat E-cigarettes the same as tobacco. “It’s just adding in the law to say ‘other nicotine products,’ so that anybody under the age of 18 cannot possess, cannot purchase the E-cigarette, which they can currently,” said Sacher. “It will be the same as having a cigarette if you’re under the age of 18.”

One of the concerns regarding E-cigarettes is that not much is known about their health dangers when they are used to deliver nicotine. “They don’t really know the risk yet,” said Sacher. “There is not enough information or research to say with certainty if it’s similar to, or as bad as, tobacco.”

Sacher also expressed concern about what might be added to the vapor solution used in E-cigarettes. “The problem is that they are used for other drugs besides the tobacco products,” she said. “People are getting creative and putting other things in there that are more illegal and using them for that purpose. And that’s a big concern.”

One of the most common misuses of E-cigarette products is the vaporization of THC, the main component of marijuana. “People have figured out how to use hash oil. It’s essentially the same as marijuana except that it’s a different form,” said Sacher. “It has the same illegal status in the state of Ohio still, but it is more dangerous because it is more potent than regular plant marijuana is.”

Sacher said this is something that a lot of kids don’t understand. “They’re just looking for a good time or fun, and they don’t realize that they can end up in the hospital from it,” she said.

VonHandorf shares the police officer’s trepidation about the E-cigarette trend.

“As a parent, I’m concerned that the E-cigarette seems to be a gateway piece of paraphernalia,” said VonHandorf. “Kids start with water vapor because they think that it’s cool, but then they move up to nicotine, which is addictive. From there, they can move up to other things simply by putting a substance in an E-cig. That, to me, is really concerning.”