Vaping Blowback: Schools, lawmakers attack e-cig makers for teen vaping epidemic

JCPS’ Board of Education voted Dec. 10 to join other school systems in Kentucky and across the country that are suing e-cigarette maker Juul, claiming it has been marketing to teenagers and children.

And Kentucky lawmakers have prefiled at least four bills for the upcoming legislative session with the goal to discourage teen vaping. 

The pervasive use of e-cigarettes by local teens has overwhelmed JCPS teachers and school officials, as reported by LEO in November 2018. 

In JCPS’ resolution authorizing litigation, the board said the schools have spent a “significant amount of time and resources” disciplining students and providing counseling and education services related to vaping. This year, JCPS launched an anti-vaping campaign, Vaping Equals.

“The action taken by the board today is another step in addressing those concerns,” said Superintendent Marty Pollio in a statement. “It is clear that JUUL, other electric cigarette and vaping product manufacturers market to young people and are potentially putting their health at risk with these products.” 

More than one in four high school students reported using an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, an increase from 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At JCPS this year, there have been 148 “incidents related to nicotine vapor products” — a 61% increase from the same time last year. 

JCPS has hired attorney Ronald Johnson to represent the school system in its suit against Juul, which will seek compensation for damages suffered by JCPS. Johnson also is representing Bullitt and Fayette county schools in their lawsuits against Juul, The Courier Journal reported. Johnson told LEO that his lawsuits will be transferred to a federal court in San Francisco. 

A representative for Juul could not be immediately reached for comment, but on Dec. 12, after the attorney general of Illinois said the state would be suing the company, too, a Juul spokesperson told CNN that the company has been “focused on resetting the vapor category in the U.S. and earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials and other stakeholders to combat underage use and convert adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.”

In the legislature, State Rep. Buddy Wheatley, D-Covington, filed a bill that would ban all flavored vapor products in Kentucky. This is a controversial move. Child health advocates say that flavors are particularly to blame for attracting teens to vaping, while some adult vapers say that flavors helped them transition from smoking cigarettes to vaping. 

Wheatley’s ban would include a fine of $1,000  to $2,500 for selling or transporting flavored vapor products.

Another bill from State Rep. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, would raise the minimum age required to buy vaping and tobacco products to 21.

State Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, is taking a more conciliatory approach toward vapers. His bills propose to tax all e-cigarettes and regulate the manufacturers and retailers of flavored e-cigarette products, but not to ban flavors outright. Miller’s proposed regulations would include banning online sales and requiring retailers and manufacturers to purchase electronic age-verification technology and to register with the state by paying a $700 annual fee. His tax would raise the price of vapor products by 27.5%. 

“I’ve got a granddaughter — she’s in fourth grade,” Miller told LEO. “Next year, she’ll be in middle school, and gee whiz, I don’t want her vaping.”