(NOTE: LAWRENCE CO. SUPT. ROB FLETCHER HAS BEEN ASKED FOR A COMMENT ON VAPING IN THE LOCAL SYSTEM AND WE WILL POST IT WHEN HE SENDS A RESPONSE.)
FRANKFORT — Seventy five Kentucky school districts ban tobacco use but far fewer ban vaping, which delivers nicotine and other substances through an electronic vaporizer. That could change under a new state law set to take effect next month.
Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program manager Kerri Verden told the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee that 2019 House Bill 11 could have an impact on 22 tobacco-free districts that don’t include vaping in their tobacco-free policies, plus others.
The law, set to take effect on June 27, will ban the use of tobacco and vaping devices on public school campuses statewide beginning next fall in school districts that don’t opt out of the ban.
“Districts may have been waiting to see what would happen with that legislation before they chose to act or not,” said Verden.
Verden said the use of e-cigarette and vaping devices in Kentucky high schools skyrocketed 200 percent between 2016 and 2018. Pod-based vaping devices that are commonly used today are “very, very addictive,” she said, with some tests indicating one pod contains the amount of nicotine found in two packs of traditional cigarettes.
“This product is so addictive and prevalent, we’re at the point where when we go to the schools we’re not talking about prevention as much as we are cessation, even at the middle school age,” she said.
While the most recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data from 2017 indicates that cigarette smoking among Kentucky high school students is at the “lowest it’s ever been,” said Verden—with around 1 in 7 Kentucky youth today smoking cigarettes—increased vaping likely means smoking rates are also on the rise, she said.
“We suspect the (smoking) rate has increased substantially, largely due to the introduction of very popular pod-based electronic cigarette systems,” which came on the market in 2015, she said. Verden told lawmakers that the use of vaping devices was declared an epidemic by the U.S. Surgeon General late last year.
She then played a video of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams speaking about the harm that nicotine and other compounds in e-cigarettes and vaping can do to the adolescent brain. In his comments, Adams said that one-third of youth who have used e-cigarettes and vaping devices have used them to vaporize and inhale marijuana. That led to comments from lawmakers on the committee, including Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson.
Webb asked Verden if THC—a hallucinogenic compound found in marijuana—has been found in e-cigarettes and vaping devices used by youth. Verden said it has, adding that she will relay that study data to the committee. Webb said that information would be of interest to her.
“That’d be the most disturbing to me as a policy maker,” said Webb. “I’d like to focus a little more on the illegal substances at this point, and I’d like to see the data on that. I think that is our immediate issue from a potential health side.”
Verden said youth can be “really creative” in using vaping devices with marijuana, and other drugs. “You don’t know what substances are in there, and it’s not even just marijuana – you can put any illicit substance in there, really, in any form.”
Also expressing concern with the use of vaping devices for use with illicit substances was Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee Co-Chair Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke. He asked Verden for data on what types of illicit drugs are being found in vaping devices and how access to those drugs is obtained.
“It really frightens me knowing that we have a younger generation that looks at these electronic devices as something … cool to have in your possession. Something like this could devastate a child,” Dossett said.