Our Opinion: Schools need state help with vaping
The cigarette industry is relentless in its determination to find ways to addict young people to its products, thus assuring a market for decades to come. E-cigarettes and flavored vaping products are the latest examples, and they are blight in schools across the state, including the Berkshires.
E- (or electronic) cigarettes are supposed to be designed to help adults quit smoking traditional cigarettes but they are increasingly popular with young people. A 2018 survey by the Berkshire Youth Development Project found that roughly 25 percent of Berkshire students had reported using (vaping) e-cigarettes within the previous 30 days, which generally matches statewide statistics. This is an increase from 16.6 percent of students in 2017. (Eagle, April 14). The various flavors, among them bubble gun, sour patch and cotton candy, are plainly designed to attract young users.
Pittsfield High School Principal Henry Duval acknowledged to Eagle reporter Haven Orecchio-Egresitz that the vaping craze "caught us off guard and steamrolled," but there is no failure in that. School officials across the county and state can say the same thing. The devices suddenly began emerging in increasingly large numbers and students began congregating in restrooms to use them, or sneaking a hit while in classrooms. E-cigarette users are suspended from school when caught, but the schools and local organizations like the Brien Center and the Railroad Street Youth Project are offering programs in prevention and addiction treatment. It is a difficult struggle, in part because the devices are relatively inexpensive in proportion the number of hits they provide. "The use of alcohol is down...but vaping is just exploding," Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, told The Eagle.
Berkshire schools and health organizations need help from the state, and are receiving it from Attorney General Maura Healey, who has launched an investigation of Juul, the largest vaping company in the US, to determine if it is intentionally marketing to minors, and has issued cease-and-desist orders to retailers like Kilo E-Liquids that her office has concluded is selling products in Massachusetts without verifying the age of buyers. In a speech earlier this week, she urged leaders on Beacon Hill to ban flavored vaping products and taxing e-cigarettes.
Gov. Baker has proposed an excise tax on both e-cigarettes and vaping products, which would at least be a valuable start. However, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the State House News Service that similar action "is something that we can discuss at a later date." There is no time for the usual dawdling. The manufacturers of smoking devices and products act quickly to exploit and addict youth. Beacon Hill must respond with similar speed.
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