E-cigarette use prompts legislature members to pass new bill



In response to the growing popularity of Juuls and e-cigarettes, the legislative committee has passed a new substance abuse bill.

Renata Shen, News Editor

“Have you ever realized, like, that our entire generation is going to get cancer in 30 years and die because we’re all addicted to nicotine?” —Overheard in the girl’s bathroom.

Through the past year, the issue of in-school juuling has sparked intense discussion among members of the school community. While the use of juuls and other e-cigarettes continues to grow in popularity, students and staff in legislature have searched for a policy that outlines specific consequences for electronic smoking devices.

The result of their efforts? A new comprehensive substance abuse bill passed Thursday, March 13 in legislature, through a vote of 16 for, 2 against and 1 abstention. The bill addresses all forms of substance use in the school, with a specific focus on the consequences of in-school vaping.

Students are forced to encounter juuling as a part of their everyday lives, according to legislature member and junior Max Siegel.

“You hear the classic stories: people walking into the bathroom and there’s just clouds of vapor,” Siegel said. “I’ve walked into bathrooms, especially the single use bathrooms, or the gender neutral bathrooms, or the one on the fourth floor, and I’ve had to wait for other people to come out because they were juuling.”

While writing the bill, Associate Dean Melanee Alexander emphasized the importance of incorporating the issue of e-cigarettes in the handbook. Alexander likened vaping to another unregulated destructive behavior: throwing rocks.

“This is an overly simplistic metaphor, but let’s say that kids begin to bring rocks to school and throw them at people. And it’s starting to be distracting in the hallways and not a conducive learning environment. But I look in the handbook and I’m like, “Oh my God, there’s nothing here about throwing rocks,’” Alexander said. “We can encourage, we can motivate, we can do all kinds of things so that students understand the implications of throwing rocks in the hallway. And on the other side of it, there’s got to be consequences.”

According to Siegel, many students “don’t think that they are addicted [to juuling] when they are.” In September 2018, the FDA labeled juuling an “epidemic,” among the youth and began a series of “critical and historical enforcement actions related to the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to kids.”    

Despite new enforcement policy from the federal government, juuling is still popular among the student body –and American youth at large. The addictive nature of nicotine, a substance often found in juuling devices, remains a reason for great concern.

“People will own a juul and juul all the time and then say that they’re not addicted because they can ‘go off of it for a few days,’” Siegel said. “But you’re still juuling everyday and using it all the time. You must be dependent on it; nicotine’s an addictive substance.”

Although the previous version of the handbook did include a substance use policy, students and staff often struggled to understand it. The old Rule 1.2, titled “Zero tolerance for Drugs and Alcohol,” of which nicotine was considered a part, split into two sections entitled, “Possession” and “Use.” Both possession and use incurred three-day minimum suspensions.

In the newly passed policy, possession and use infractions are processed on a case-by-case basis through hearings with the headmaster. Length and form of the suspension are determined by evidence and due process.

Instead of explaining general consequences, the new policy begins with a section specifically on tobacco use and e-cigarettes. Rather than an immediate mandatory suspension, students are referred to the school’s Substance Abuse Prevention program, among other possible consequences.

The second part of the bill refers to “alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse” and begins with the legal definitions of “Alcoholic Beverages,” “Controlled Substance” and “Drug Paraphernalia.” According to Alexander, the new policy is much more straightforward than the previous version, especially in regards to drug searches.

“The worst part of my job is to have to search somebody. No student wants to be searched. No student wants to be put in the position of revealing all of what they are experiencing at the moment,” Alexander said.

The new policy labels all forms of  “drug paraphernalia” —vessels that could hold drugs— contraband, regardless of what they actually hold. In other words, a juul could be confiscated even if there isn’t a nicotine pod inserted.

“The policy is designed to protect the deans who are doing the searching and students. Because it’s just very simple if you’re not supposed to have [a juul], then the discussion of what’s in it does not take place,” Alexander said.

Additionally, the bill includes a special provision for seniors; if any seniors are found violating any of the rules, they are “prohibited from attending and from participating in the Graduation Exercise.”

Following its passage in legislature, the bill will be sent to the headmaster, who gets 15 days to veto it, and then it goes into effect.

For faculty adviser Jen Martin, the bill is representative of the community effort required to maintain the school’s democracy.

“In schools all over the country, people make rules that force kids to follow these rules, and there isn’t a process to make sure that everybody is being treated fairly and that we understand why we’re doing it,” Martin said. “We have a dean who’s really invested in legislature, really wants to fix a problem that both students and adults agree is an actual problem. And I think the students are doing a good job of agreeing that it’s a problem, but also looking out for student interests.”