BURLEY, Idaho • Students have been sneaking off to the boys’ room to smoke since the advent of schools and the discovery of tobacco. But use of harder-to-detect electronic cigarettes is causing some educators and parents to worry.
“Any parent should be worried about this. It’s one more thing out there to distract our children from a healthy lifestyle,” said mother Jolene Graham, who serves on a parent advisory committee at Burley High School.
The Cassia County Sheriff’s Office cited five underage students at the school in October for possession, use or distribution of tobacco or e-cigarettes.
The battery-powered e-cigarettes provide aerosol doses of nicotine and other additives. The devices emit a vapor but no telltale smoke.
Depending on the brand, the cartridges can contain nicotine, a component to produce the aerosol and flavorings such as fruit, mint, candy and beer, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The products resemble cigarettes, cigars, pipes or everyday items such as pens and USB memory sticks.
E-cigarettes not marketed for therapeutic purposes are unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
FDA studies show “significant quality issues that indicate control processes used to manufacture these products are substandard or non-existent.”
The FDA found cartridges containing nicotine but labeled as no nicotine as well as three different e-cigarette cartridges with the same label but that emitted markedly different amounts of nicotine with each puff.
Sheriff’s Cpl. Terry Higley responded to the incident at the high school.
“If someone doesn’t know about them, they would just think they were some type of marker or highlighter pen,” Higley said about the devices he confiscated.
E-cigarettes are available at stores, but a person must be 18 or older to buy them.
“Most of the kids are saying they just buy them online. All they have to do is check the box that asks if they are 18,” Higley said.
He said one student told him he was using the e-cigarettes to help him quit smoking, and one girl admitted she had used the e-cigarette in class.
Four of the five students’ parents said they did not know their children were using the products, Higley said.
Twin Falls High School hasn’t had any e-cigarette incidents since students were caught smoking them on campus a couple of summers ago, said Principal Ben Allen.
The school then had no policies to deal with the electronic “smokes.” Now e-cigarettes are in school policy for paraphernalia to encompass any changes in the devices, Allen said.
“I’m not saying that eliminated it,” he said. “We just haven’t had to deal with it lately.”
No students at Jerome High School have been caught with e-cigarettes, said Vice Principal Victor Arreaga.
“I guess our kids settle for the real thing or nothing,” Arreaga said. “The problem here at our school is chew (chewing tobacco), not cigarettes.”
Nonetheless, said Jerome High Principal Eric Anderson, the school staff will have to get educated on the product because it is sure to filter into the school at some point.
The Cassia County School District board intends to revisit the district’s policy on nicotine and tobacco to include the devices, said Superintendent Gaylen Smyer.
If students are caught with nicotine oils or tobacco, law enforcement is called and the school can discipline the student up to suspension.
“As an educator, my concern is that nicotine is a habit-forming drug. Sometimes students at that age want to experience things that may have lifelong consequences,” Smyer said. “When adults make a decision to smoke, I support that. But I hate to see young people dabble with something that may have a lifelong effect.”
District teachers will be taught to recognize the objects, he said.
Higley said he plans to use the confiscated paraphernalia as a teaching tool.
“The biggest issue here is, parents need to educate themselves on this. You can’t put the blinders on,” said Graham. “Parents need to have frank discussions with their children at home about these products.”