Jackson schools address vape usage
The Jackson County Schools Health Advisory Council has been conducting research into vape use among students and its findings have prompted the school board to sign a resolution in support of stricter tobacco laws in North Carolina.
“I want to present this resolution to y’all tonight, hoping that you’ll approve it,” said School Nutrition Director and School Health Advisory Council member, Laura Cabe, during a March 28 Board of Education meeting. “We plan to go to the board of health and so on and meet with all sorts of individuals in our community to show that we want to get some push and support to increase that age to 21 which is what this resolution is about.”
When Congress increased the federal minimum legal age of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21 in 2009, North Carolina was one of the few states that chose not to follow the change. North Carolinians can purchase tobacco products when they are 18 years old and although public school campuses are technically tobacco-free, most users can find their way around that stipulation.
The Tobacco 21 Resolution is circulating among school districts in North Carolina and other states without their own Tobacco 21 laws. In the Smoky Mountain News’ four-county coverage area, Macon County School Board has also signed the T-21 Resolution. According to a report from the United States Department of Health and Human Services cited in the resolution, 95% of tobacco users start before the age of 21 and in 2019, 27.3% of high school students in North Carolina reported tobacco use.
“This is something that is not born just from us,” said Superintendent Dana Ayers. “It has been shared not just throughout our community and the state, but around the nation. There’s a real push for us to address this in the state of North Carolina, being a tobacco state.”
The Jackson School Health Advisory Council, or SHAC, has identified vaping as a serious concern for the health of its students and made curriculum recommendations in accordance with its findings. As it stands now, middle and high school curriculum include a program called AVOID (anti-vaping online information dissemination). However, SHAC found that vaping is starting at much younger ages, even in elementary school. Therefore, the council made recommendations to look into existing anti-vaping education programs that are appropriate for younger ages.
SHAC is an advisory council made up of more than 20 members, with representatives from each school in the county. Schools were required to have health advisory councils and establish wellness policies following the Child Nutrition and WIC Authorization Act in 2004. Today, some school systems have kept these councils active and the group in Jackson County is particularly effective. Last year the council decided that vaping, increasingly popular among teens, was a serious issue that needed addressing.
“We want to get support from our community and then we can also present this to our state legislators to show how strong and passionate we are about this,” said Cabe. “And really start to work on the law and rezoning these vape shops.”
Besides the age limit for purchasing tobacco products, a primary concern for the Student Health Advisory Council is the relative ease with which vape shops can pop up close to schools.
“I think we have five vape shops within walking distance of Smoky Mountain High School now,” said Cabe. “So that is very concerning.”
The resolution calls for, among other things, establishing a tobacco retailer permitting system. North Carolina is one of only 10 states in the country that do not require tobacco retailers to obtain a license or permit.
“It is easier in North Carolina to get a license to sell vapes than it is to get a fishing license,” said Deputy Superintendent Jake Buchanan. “One of the things that’s very important for us is to spread the word to parents that vapes are not safer than smoking cigarettes. In fact, they’re far more dangerous. To the point where if we had a kid that had the vape of choice, we’d say, ‘take a pack of cigarettes before you take a vape,’ because the vapes, the things that are in them, have landed our kids in the emergency room in serious condition.”
Jackson County schools has dealt with health incidents in which students were using vapes of which they did not know the contents and were more potent than they were used to, causing serious side effects.
Board member Kim Moore thanked the Student Health Advisory Council and urged her fellow board members to consider vaping and vape shops as predatory.
“I want to encourage my other board members to really consider this because if you can’t see it as predators, then why are so many popping up right beside our high school,” said Moore. “Like they’re moving to get closer to the kids, and I look at it as like preying on our kids. I feel like we’re the last line of defense.”
“With this resolution, we recognize that we can’t enforce, but we can endorse. I want you to think of this resolution as we’re putting our stamp of approval as JCPS on the fact that there should not be vape shops nearby, the age should be increased and such because it is heavily impacting not just our schools, but our community as a whole,” said Ayers. “I have read this thoroughly and I believe it is something that we should certainly endorse.”
The board approved the resolution unanimously and the advisory council plans to share the resolution with the county health department, county commissioners and eventually, state representatives.