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Although schools already ban use of any tobacco products on campuses, it is now illegal in unincorporated Douglas County for anyone under 18 to possess e-cigarettes, vapor pens or any other alternate devices of ingesting nicotine.
The Douglas County Commission’s action Sept. 8 expanded its existing ordinance prohibiting minor possession of tobacco to include products developed in recent years.
“We see it as a huge issue, especially since vapor pens carry more than just tobacco and juveniles are very resourceful,” said Sgt. Myra Buys of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
In the past, School Resource Officers have written tickets for tobacco and confiscated the product, but the emergence of vapor pens over the past couple years has made it difficult to regulate.
“Since they weren’t illegal to possess or own for juveniles, we were at a standstill and we didn’t know how we were going to approach the whole issue,” Buys said. “Now, this is a way for us to enforce the fact that they are not allowed to have a vapor pen at school or on their persons until they are the age of 18.”
The ordinance won’t change the way the school district deals with tobacco issues because it has always forbidden any kind of tobacco products, from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco to emerging paraphernalia for smoking.
“We are noticing that some students are trying to use them in classrooms and hallways because they can be zero-percent nicotine,” said Cyndi Fern, prevention relations lead for Douglas County School District. “But in our policy, anything that you can use tobacco for is still against school rules.”
According to the district’s code of conduct, district policy focuses on educational alternatives to suspension, confiscation of tobacco products and a ticket.
The county ordinance, Buy said, “gives us more teeth because sometimes school consequences aren’t enough for a student, so they need to be held to a higher expectation.”
In the schools
Castle View High School counselor Aaron Keller said he has seen many students get in trouble with vapor pens in the past couple of years.
“It’s a coincidence that a lot of things are keeping on trend with teenager culture from the logos to the designs,” he said, adding his biggest concern is students using the products for off-label use, such as marijuana.
Castle View High School School Resource Officer Todd West noted the original concept of electronic devices, including vape pens, was to curb tobacco use, but the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has altered that.
Some off-label uses for marijuana are dabbing, BHO wax, shatter and hash oil, all of which are marijuana concentrate and can be used in a vape pen as a delivery system, West said. When mixed with the juice from the vapor, the marijuana cannot be smelled.
A Mountain Vista High School student said he knows many teens use the electronic devices as an alternative. A group of Arapahoe High School students said e-cigarettes and vape pens are more common than the traditional cigarette because they are thought to be better for you.
Those views coincide with what school and law enforcement officials are seeing.
“What we noticed is that our number for tobacco is slowly declining, but we’re noticing an increase in electronic cigarette use,” Fern said. “Three years ago, when they were first starting to become popular, kids would argue that it’s just water vapor. But now, the data is coming out that they do have carcinogens/toxins. For some of our students, that is pushing them away.”
At Castle View High School, West has seen fewer students this school year with electronic tobacco products.
“I think it is a trend — it’s like the new toy,” he said. “Last year, it was three to five students a week doing it in class, and then they would Instagram it.”
But about a month into the new school year, West said he has seen a decline. He credits this to efforts in educating students about the dangers.
One programs is a health curriculum at the middle school level, which educates on tobacco, e-cigarettes and vape pens as well as marijuana.
“The district is working extremely hard on educating our students on the dangers of it,” Fern said. “There’s research turned out every day about electronic cigarettes and whether they are safe or not.”
Parents also need to educate themselves, Buys said.
“I would just like parents to know that you don’t know what your child is smoking in vapor pens,” she said. “And really, they aren’t old enough to make those decisions until they are at least 21 or older. So, just be cautious about what they are carrying with them.”
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