Youth outreach coordinator welcomes law, school district superintendents weigh in

The bill Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed Tuesday banning the use of electronic cigarettes on all school grounds in the state was good news, but could have come sooner, a local youth outreach official said.

Jon Chaffee, Reality Check assistant coordinator for youth outreach for Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, said Reality Check has been working on issues with e-cigarettes since their prevalence and popularity demanded attention.

“This is something that could have been addressed sooner as studies have come out to show that e-cigarette vapor does not just contain water vapor and that secondhand vape has dangerous chemicals in it similar to secondhand smoke,” he said of the new law. “A lot of the schools that we have dealt with have updated their policies adding e-cigarettes to what is prohibited to be used on school grounds.

The law says school grounds include any building, structure and surrounding outdoor grounds contained within a public or private pre-school, nursery school, elementary, or secondary school's property, and any vehicles used to transport children or school personnel.

“To me this is a big victory, as laws such as this show youth and adults that e-cigarettes are not a completely harmless product and promote positive behavior. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and has no place in our schools or on their grounds,” Chaffee said. “E-cigarettes can be used to vape other drugs, such as THC, opiates and heroin, so by prohibiting these type of products on school grounds, it could possibly be stopping the use of other drugs through e-cigarette devices. The next step is continuing education for our school administrators, teachers and staff about new products and substances.”
 
Cuomo said the new law will close “a dangerous loophole” that allows e-cigarettes to be used in New York schools," Cuomo said.

"This measure will further this administration's efforts to combat teen smoking in all its forms and help create a stronger, healthier New York for all,” he said.

Allegany Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (ACASA) Executive Director William Penman said, “We’ve been following it because it’s just getting all the e-cigarettes to be dealt with as a tobacco product. If they’re banning tobacco products from a school, that should include e-cigarettes and regular tobacco or chewing tobacco or anything like that.

“I had heard awhile ago that the governor was going to do something, but I hadn’t heard exactly what form it was going to take,” he said.

According an ACASA youth survey completed this spring, high school e-cigarette use is 43.1 percent in Allegany County, compared to the New York state average of 20.6 percent among high school students.

“With Allegany County's rates being more than double the state average for e-cigarette use among high school students, I would say that there is a problem. I have done some e-cigarette presentations in Allegany County schools and organizations that work with youth to help educate the staff and students about e-cigarettes and the associated risks,” he said. “Through these presentations it is evident that some schools have had issues with students having or using e-cigarettes on school grounds.

“Some school districts have been proactive and added e-cigarettes to their list of prohibited items on school grounds, which I applaud. But now, the governor has added e-cigarettes to the be prohibited on all schools’ grounds, which is one more step in stopping youth from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Cuba-Rushford Central School District Superintendent Carlos Gildemeister said the district has been banning these types of tobacco products in its Code of Conduct for five or six years already.

“I don't see any significant impact or change of practice on the school community. Although we do not see too many drug problems in school, we certainly know that the accessibility for youth is there,” he said. “Educate, educate, educate and provide students a venue to shout out for help within the schools.”

Scio Central School Superintendent Greg Hardy said Scio dealt with this long enough ago that it isn’t an issue.

In the Fillmore Central School District, Superintendent Dr. Ravo Root said, “The Fillmore School District has also banned all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, for several years now. However, the creation of a law to ban it on all schools is a good idea. E-cigarettes and vaping have become more popular to students over the past few years because of the variety of flavors available.  Legislation designed to slow this trend is a positive.”

In March, the governor announced a survey released by the New York State Department of Health, which found that e-cigarette use by high school students nearly doubled in the last two years, from 10.5 percent in 2014 to 20.6 percent in 2016. A recent U.S. surgeon general's report shows the number of high school students using e-cigarettes soared 900 percent between 2011 and 2015.