RICHMOND, Va. — Some schools are getting tougher on e-cigarettes, even punishing possession of the devices more harshly than regular cigarettes.
The devices, which heat a nicotine solution to create a vapor instead of burning tobacco, have passed traditional smokes in popularity among teenagers. Schools are clamping down because e-cigarettes, sometimes also known as vaporizers, can also be used for illegal substances like marijuana.
Most schools have folded e-cigarettes into their anti-tobacco policies, which typically punish students with detention, a letter home and sometimes a tobacco education class.
But other schools in states including North Carolina, New Jersey, Washington and Connecticut, are grouping the devices in with bongs and pipes, meaning students could face long suspensions and required drug tests and have possession of drug paraphernalia marked on their school record.
“Our goal is to reduce access and discourage use on campus,” said Sarah D’Annolfo, dean of students at The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut. The co-ed boarding school amended its policy this school year to have e-cigarettes fall under its drug and alcohol policy.
A disciplinary committee made up of faculty and students evaluate the student’s violations case-by-case, but they could result in a weeklong suspension and a mark on their record rather than a chat with the dean and school doctor and parental notification.
“It definitely sparks conversation within the school community about e-cigarette use and the possible dangers and the possible benefits,” D’Annolfo said. “That conversation alone is a hugely important learning opportunity.”
According to an annual government survey of more than 41,000 students, e-cigarettes have surpassed traditional smoking in popularity among teens.
Some 16 percent of 10th-graders had tried an e-cigarette in the past month, and 17 percent of high school seniors. Regular smoking continued inching down, to 7 percent of 10th-graders and 14 percent of 12th-graders. However, the survey didn’t ask about repeat use, or whether teens were just experimenting with something new.