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Schools warn against e-cigarettes

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NOT YOUR AVERAGE FLASH DRIVE:Dan Gray, director of the Wabash County Tobacco Free Coalition, holds a Juul e-cigarette device designed to look like a flash drive. The devices are often a nuisance in schools.
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LOOKALIKES:Wabash County Tobacoo Free Coalition Director Dan Gray displays an e-cigarette modeled to look like a real one. But the device holds an equal amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@chronicle-tribune.com

Local authorities are considering how they can address the use of e-cigarettes in high schools, an issue some have said is an epidemic.

Wabash High School Assistant Principal Jeff Galley has been warning teachers of a new type of e-cigarette disguised as a flash drive. He said he learned about them a few years ago and started spreading the word around to warn staff.

“Before, this wasn’t such a big deal,” he said. “(E-Cigarettes) were easy to identify. They were big, bulky, not easily concealed in a pocket. But now, they’re so small they look like straws. It’s a lot harder to tell if they have something they shouldn’t.”

Five weeks into the school year, he’s only confiscated three. The encounters are infrequent, but he said there might be more as students get settled in their studies.

Galley works frequently with Dan Gray, director of the Wabash County Tobacco Free Coalition, who spends his time spreading the word about the real dangers of “vaping.”

“People think this is harmless, just flavored water vapor, but e-cigarettes contain many toxic chemicals found in tobacco and then some since they’re not yet regulated by the FDA,” Gray said.

He explained that e-cigarettes are classified as an aerosol, and contain carcinogens and formaldehyde.

“Obviously those things are not good for you,” Gray said.

He compared the issue today to smoking in schools during the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“The smell of e-cigarettes is so difficult to spot,” Gray explained. “They smell almost fruity because of the other flavors, whereas walking by a restroom and smelling tobacco smoke would be really distinctive.”

He said it’s not uncommon to see e-cigarettes marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking or as a way to quit cigarettes. He advised parents not to be fooled by the advertising they might see at pop-up vape stores.

“One cartridge from some of these brands, like Juul, contain the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes that makes them highly addictive,” he said.

North Manchester recently passed an ordinance specifically banning the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces and events. Likewise, schools now contain policies specifically listing zero tolerance of e-cigarettes in student handbooks.

James Bishir, assistant principal of Manchester Jr. - Sr. High School, said he doesn’t often encounter e-cigarettes but treats them like tobacco.

“When we collect them, as a school system we don’t investigate,” he said. “Just having the device is enough, and students can be reprimanded up to and including expulsion.”

Gray said “it’s incredibly easy” for a student to go online and purchase e-cigarette cartridges and products, mentioning a recent situation in which a student had purchased e-cigarettes in bulk and began selling them in school. Galley said administration is working with authorities at the state level to create language specific to e-cigarettes to hold people accountable.

“We know where these things are coming from,” he said. “We’re just trying to get these things lined up so that those with the authority can stop it.”

In the meantime, Gray uses his knowledge of tobacco and new trends in prevention programs at the second and fifth grade levels.

The Tobacco Free Coalition visits every second and fifth grade classroom in the county to talk about the dangers of tobacco and e-cigarettes in the hopes of making an impact at home and later on.

Galley said there will likely always be a tobacco problem – or some version of one – in schools. But administration will continue doing their best to keep kids healthy and focused.