Committee passes bill to empower schools to tackle e-cigarette usage

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SALT LAKE CITY — A committee unanimously passed a bill that would establish clearer policies for vaping on school property and empower schools to create programs to tackle student usage of cigarettes and other negative behaviors through prosocial intervention.

HB58 sponsor, Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, said the legislation came from research she worked on throughout the summer looking at vaping and e-cigarette usage in schools.

“It’s alarming,” Pulsipher said about the findings. “We know that we have to do something to help our schools.”

Student usage has increased dramatically over the last few years and schools have told us that they are not sure what to do, Pulsipher said, pointing to a study done in 2019 that found 10% of students in sixth, eighth and 12th grade reported vaping.

Pulsipher created the legislation to address the widespread issue by doing three things.

First, the legislation calls on local education agencies to adopt policies in their schools that pertain to the confiscation and destroying of e-cigarettes and vaping products.

“We’ve seen administrators that tell us they have a drawer full of devices and they weren’t sure what to do with it,” Pulsipher said. “When a student is caught, we are establishing that the products can be taken away and destroyed.”

She added that the State Board of Education already adopted this policy in January so that schools wouldn’t have to wait until the legislation took effect in May.

The bill also declares that it is illegal for a minor to have an e-cig or vaping device on school property and asks the State Board of Education to establish “a library of recommended best practices” for intervening in student use.

“That way we can find those things that work very well and give our kids the very best opportunities to overcome the addictions they may have already developed,” Pulsipher explained.

The second and third parts of the bill look at the underlying causes behind student use, such as peer pressure, stress relief, role models “glamorizing vaping,” and general misinformation, Pulsipher said.

Many students think vaping “is just flavored water” and that doing it won’t hurt them, she said. To counter that misunderstanding, the State Board of Education is adding “the harmful effects of vaping” to the health curriculum already in use to talk about the adverse impacts of alcohol and other drugs.

Drawing on the fact that many students who vape also experience social, mental and emotional struggles, Pulsipher said the bill asks each school to create a plan to address student usage of e-cigs, vaping and other negative behaviors through a “positive behaviors program.”

These programs, Pulsipher said, would emphasize and promote prosocial interventions, get kids together and increase connectedness.

Schools would decide the best way to do this for their students and each institution would be provided a $3,000 stipend for someone to run the program. Local school boards would approve plans and moderate the programs, she explained.

Pulsipher said the intention of the bill is that the costs would be covered by SB37, a bill that if passed would raise taxes on e-cigarettes.

“The intention is that the tax on these vaping products is used to educate students and offset the harmful effects of vaping,” she explained.

Mike Anderson, associate superintendent for Jordan School District, pitched his support behind the bill and praised Pulsipher for her work opposing vaping, which he says is being marketed to young people in a “predatory” way.

Terry Shoemaker from the Utah School Board association and the Utah School Superintendents Association condemned vaping as a serious nationwide issue.

“The current methods of regulating and creating control associated with this issue have not worked. The product manufacturers themselves have figured out way after way after way of getting around regulation,” Shoemaker said. “Without regulation, much more stringent to what we are presently doing, we’re going to have a serious number of addicted young people in this state for which we will pay over and over again in the future.”

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