The Kansas State Board of Education welcomed a series of recommendations Tuesday in response to the e-cigarette epidemic among youths that featured four ideas for reforming state law and options for changing local school board policy to block vaping by students, employees and school visitors.
Motivation for taking a new path was drawn from anecdotal evidence that e-cigarette usage mushroomed in the past couple of years and from the spring survey of Kansas ninth-graders through 12th-graders. In the survey of public school students, 48.6% said they had used an electronic vapor product to consume tobacco. That was up from 34.8% in 2017 and reflected a 40% surge in use of the devices.
Kansas' high-school aged students were much more likely to experiment with vaping than traditional cigarettes. The latest report showed 24.8% tried a cigarette, but 48.6% had vaped. The portion who consumed tobacco within 30 days of the survey ranged from 5.8% by cigarette to 22% by vaping.
Kansas Health Institute policy analyst Hina Shah said the state board of education could give thought to endorsing any of four areas of potential statutory change on tobacco consumption ahead of the 2020 session of the Kansas Legislature starting in January.
"What this review does, it gives you kind of an overview of each of the different types of state statutes," she said.
The first suggestion was for the board to get behind an existing campaign to raise the statewide minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have taken this approach to reducing access by adolescents to all forms of tobacco. In Kansas, 29 local units of government have adopted "Tobacco 21" ordinances.
Ann Mah, a Topeka representative on the state board of education, said the Legislature adopted an indoor smoking ban in 2010 in large measure because of evidence secondhand tobacco smoke caused lethal medical problems and increased the state's health care costs. To inform the 2020 Legislature of the public policy challenge, she said, it would be helpful to have comparable evidence.
"If it's going to be successful, we've got to have numbers," Mah said.
Shah said some states layered tobacco restriction laws with exemptions for members of the active-duty military, as well as individuals turning 18 before a certain date.
In addition, Shah said, the state board of education could weigh in on possible bills that would add vaping to the state's indoor smoking ban, raise the state tax on sale or dealing of electronic cigarettes and enact a ban on flavored nicotine-containing vapor products.
The state board of education is scheduled to vote in December on a set of policy recommendations regarding tobacco products that would, if approved, be passed on to local school boards for consideration.
Ness City superintendent Derek Reinhardt said the policy guidance developed by the board's vaping task force contained the standard ban on use, possession and promotion of all tobacco products by students and staff. The suggested policy also would block use of tobacco products by parents, contractors, volunteers and other visitors in any district facility, school vehicle or at school-sponsored activities, programs or events.
"Personally, I feel my district passed something very similar to this about five years ago. I know there are school districts out there that I've been in that have very similar policies," Reinhardt said.
He said the first couple of years after implementation led to a handful of confrontations with adults who complied only after given the option of dealing with a law enforcement officer and being banned from school property. Local districts not invested in grappling with community members on the tobacco front will be the least likely to embrace the proposal before the state board, he said.
"I think this is good policy in terms of what's best for kids," Reinhardt said.