High school students standing outside  of their school smoking cigarettes used to be commonplace, but that sighting has been gradually dissipating. Now, electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or vaporizers, are the newest fad, being used for both nicotine and illegal substances like marijuana. That fad might not last long, however, because high schools across the nation are cracking down. But should they punish students as if they are using a nicotine product or drug paraphernalia? For me, the answer is obvious — punish the students for what the e-cigarette is meant to be used for — nicotine.

E-cigarettes have not been around for very long, but they have become popular among smokers to help them quit. The e-cigarettes heat a nicotine solution that then creates vapor instead of burning tobacco and creating smoke.

Sean Crater / Webmaster

Sean Crater / Webmaster

This also means that e-cigarette users can smoke and get their nicotine without creating smoke or a scent. These new cigarettes have become extremely popular among high school students recently and are now even more popular than traditional cigarettes, according to Fox News. They are also extremely popular among college students.

The decision regarding how traditional cigarettes should be categorized in school policies has been decided by the laws regulating traditional cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes have yet to be regulated by the federal government and state governments are just starting to make their own decisions.

The National Association of State Boards of Education’s Executive Director, Kristen Amundson, however, stated that she believes the group would recommend that the vaporized devices be treated as tobacco products.

Every high school has an anti-tobacco policy in its student handbook. Some high schools have decided to add vaporizers to their policy while others have decided to add them under their policy against drug paraphernalia.

This means that some high schools in states like North Carolina, New Jersey, Washington, Pennsylvania and Connecticut group these devices together with bongs and pipes, punishing their students more harshly for e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes, according to Fox News.

Most high schools punish students for using tobacco products by giving students detention, sending a letter home or mandating tobacco education classes. These punishments would be the same for e-cigarettes if they are categorized as tobacco products by the school. If they are not, however, then students could be given long suspensions, expulsions, drug tests and a report of the incident on their permanent school record.

Although it is true that some students utilize the device as a way to smoke illegal drugs like marijuana discreetly, that is the not the case for every student.

Just because some students utilize the device in a way it is not intended to be used does not mean every student should be assumed to be doing the same thing. The high schools should punish students for the device’s designated use, which is smoking tobacco.

Yes, students are not supposed to have the e-cigarettes in the first place because most of them are under the age of 18, the legal age to have tobacco products in America, but it is unfair to punish these students for drug paraphernalia if that is not how they are using these devices.

It would take too much time for high schools to investigate each case to see if students were using their e-cigarettes as drug paraphernalia. Therefore high schools should use good judgment, common sense and discretion when deciding a punishment.

If the vaporizers are categorized in that way, then students would have a permanent record for having a tobacco product. When applying for universities during their senior year, college admission departments will see the record as drug paraphernalia, giving the college the wrong impression and hindering the student’s ability to get admitted, all because of a tobacco product.

I believe states should follow in Connecticut’s footsteps. According to the New Haven Register’s Wes Duplantier, Connecticut’s State Representative, Devin Carney, has proposed a bill that “calls for e-cigarettes to be defined as a tobacco product . . . [and] forbids the use of e-cigarettes by anyone on school grounds” (2015).

Duplantier states, “After the age limit on e-cigarettes was passed, the Connecticut Boards of Education sent its members an example of how to incorporate electronic cigarettes and vapor products into their existing anti-tobacco policies” not their existing drug paraphernalia policies.

I have no problem with punishing a student for being in possession of or using an e-cigarette because I understand the health concerns high schools have.

However it is the punishment and policies I have trouble with. I do strongly believe students should not be using e-cigarettes because it can easily lead to a nicotine addiction, but they should not be punished for having drug paraphernalia if that’s not what they have.

Taylor Howe can be contacted at thowe@kscequinox.com

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