Flagstaff Unified School District has officially banned electronic cigarettes.
The FUSD Governing Board voted unanimously Tuesday to add language about e-cigarettes, tobacco substitutes, vapor products and other chemical inhalation devices to its policy prohibiting smoking in district buildings and vehicles, and on district premises.
“Although our existing policy probably effectively prohibited them, because there is a perception that e-cigarettes are not real cigarettes, because some of them contain nicotine and some of them don’t, and because they are a little bit unknown, we thought it best to specifically dictate in our policy whether or not e-cigarettes were allowed in school property,” said FUSD Superintendent Barbara Hickman.
FUSD officials have not run into very many students using e-cigarettes on campus, but there were a few students who tried to bend the rules. In the past two years, one student at Coconino High School and one student at Flagstaff High School got caught smoking e-cigarettes at after-school events. Those two incidents were part of the reason the school board decided to take a serious look at possible loopholes in their tobacco policy.
“We had a couple kids try it just to make it look like, ‘Oh, but these aren’t real cigarettes,’” said Mary K. Walton, FUSD’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
The Coconino County Public Health Services District applauded FUSD’s decision to adopt an e-cigarette ban.
“Once again, they are being a leader in our community,” said Bernice Carver, a public health educator for the county.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that deliver a vaporized mixture of nicotine, flavoring and a carrier oil, which is usually a mixture of glycerol and propylene glycol. They are often marketed as being a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. However, Mike Oxtoby, division manager of the county’s Health Education and Promotion Unit, said e-cigarettes are neither regulated nor safe.
“That’s part of the marketing,” Oxtoby said. “(E-cigarettes) contain at least 10 chemicals whose vapors are known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.”
Unlike nearly everything most Americans put into their bodies, e-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. A peer-reviewed research paper published this March by the BMJ Group identified toxic substances in the vapor of 12 different brands of e-cigarettes, although the amounts were anywhere from nine to 450 times lower than the amounts of those chemicals found in the smoke from traditional cigarettes. Even without all those other chemicals, Oxtoby said most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, even the ones that claim to be nicotine-free.
“Nicotine is a highly toxic, highly addictive chemical,” Carver said. “When (nicotine) addiction takes over, it reduces the number of dopamine receptors in the brain.”
Nicotine can be particularly dangerous to minors. It only takes 20 mg. of nicotine to kill a small child.
Oxtoby and Carver both said it is important for people to realize that e-cigarettes are not proven to help smokers kick the habit.
In fact, people who have never smoked a cigarette before can get hooked on nicotine by smoking e-cigarettes. They also said manufacturers appear to be marketing them to children through kid-friendly flavors like bubble gum and advertisements with sexy young actors and actresses.
STING BUSTS SEVEN
A study released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the percentage of high school students who had tried e-cigarettes in the past year doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent.
The Arizona Legislature passed a law this year making it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors.
However, when the county’s Public Health Services District sent undercover teens to 24 different e-cigarette stores in Flagstaff and Page, seven of them sold e-cigarettes to the minors.
Public Health Services District officials are now trying to educate retailers about the new e-cigarette law.
FUSD based its e-cigarette ban on a new Arizona School Boards Association rule prohibiting students, staff members and visitors from using e-cigarettes and similar items.
“This is as much for visitors as it is for students,” Hickman said. “We want to make sure that people who come onto campus realize that the same laws apply to them. E-cigarettes would not be welcome at football games, they would not be welcome at other events where non-school people might be present as well as students.”
Any person caught smoking an e-cigarette on FUSD property or at a school-sponsored event on or off campus could be charged with a petty offense under Arizona’s tobacco law, although Walton said school officials will most likely just ask them to stop.
Disciplinary penalties for students caught using e-cigarettes could include suspension from school or expulsion.
Michelle McManimon can be reached at MMcManimon@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.