SALT LAKE CITY — School administrators could confiscate and destroy students’ vaping devices under the first of a series of bills Utah lawmakers will consider to address underage e-cigarette use in the state.
Principals are at loss as to what to do with vaping devices they take away from students, said Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan. Some return them at the end of the day or have parents come and say the device belongs to them.
“And the student brings it the next day and vapes again,” she said.
Meantime, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, continued his push for a federal ban on flavored vaping products, though he didn’t get the answer he wanted during the confirmation hearing Wednesday for the potential next Food and Drug Administration commissioner.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the chief medical executive of MD Anderson Cancer Center, said he’s “completely alarmed” at the effect flavored e-cigarettes have on children, and vowed “bold action” to keep them away from children, but didn’t commit to a flavor ban.
“While I appreciate that Dr. Hahn agrees that bold action is needed to reduce youth vaping, I believe he should have affirmed the need for a flavor ban based on the evidence seen so far, which is that flavored e-cigarettes are drawing more and more kids into vaping and they are becoming addicted to nicotine without knowing it,” Romney said in a statement after the hearing in Washington.
Recent news reports suggested the Trump administration is backing away from a plan to remove nontobacco flavored vaping products from the market.
“We have a health emergency on our hands, and the administration must follow through on its commitment to ban flavors that entice our youth,” Romney said.
In Utah, a judge recently blocked a health department rule banning vape shops from selling flavored e-cigarettes, saying state regulators failed to link them to a rise in cases of lung illness.
A recent state survey showed 30,555 or 9.7% of Utah schoolchildren had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days — figures that exceeds marijuana, alcohol and regular cigarette use.
A day doesn’t go by without incidents of vaping on Utah school grounds, said Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association.
“It’s not good news. It’s very bad news. It’s serious and people are dying because of it,” he told the Education Interim Committee.
Pulsipher’s bill, which the committee unanimously approved, would allow administrators to confiscate and dispose of the device. Administrators could also turn it over to police if they suspect the device contained an illegal substance.
Earlier this month, the Utah State Board of Education adopted an emergency rule matching the proposed legislation. Pulsipher said the rule allows schools to start enforcing the rule in January waiting for the bill to pass.
“What we really want to do is help kids and help schools because if schools do not have to deal with students that are vaping, they’ll be able to teach more easily,” she said.
The legislation also calls for schools to teach students about the dangers of vaping and provides money to create positive behavior plans that address issue such as anxiety, depression and isolation, reasons that Pulsipher said some children take up vaping.
In addition to the school bill, Utah lawmakers will consider imposing an excise tax on e-cigarettes, regulations for vape shops regarding attracting, soliciting and selling to minors, and encouraging local health departments to cap the number of vape shops in an area.