Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD sent 238 and 219 students to discipline schools for vaping respectively, including elementary school students.
Gone into effect in September 2023, the shocking measure mandates that students caught with vapes on campus or within 300 feet of a school, are sent to discipline alternative education programs (DAEPs). The Texas Education Agency defines DAEPs as alternative education settings for students temporarily removed from their regular instructional settings for disciplinary purposes. Some districts have sought exemptions or amendments to create their own vape policies, emphasizing the need to address vaping as a community-wide issue.

While Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD reported 238 and 219 students respectively, including elementary school students. These were sent to discipline schools for vaping in the first four months of its enforcement. Amongst other things, concerns have arisen due to the law’s lack of specificity regarding the duration of students’ stay in the DAEP program, which is criticised for its zero-tolerance approach.

In line with this, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Thompson, has acknowledged the need to revisit the legislation, noting that its original intent was to provide districts with flexibility in disciplining students caught with marijuana. However, a last-minute amendment altered the proposal, extending it to vaping.

Interestingly, critics of the programme include entities usually known for their harsh stance against vaping, such as the American Lung Association (ALA), who argued that the measure fails to address the root causes of youth vaping and addiction. The ALA is cautioning against the zero-tolerance policy, which they believe unnecessarily exposes students to more dangerous behaviours in discipline schools.

Regulators should be conducting a root cause analysis

While tobacco harm reduction experts have consistently warned against prohibition and stress the importance of enforcing existing laws, such as age checks at tobacco retailers to combat youth vaping effectively. While in line with the ALA, experts in the field of addiction have highlighted the need to focus on the root causes of vaping such as stress and a lack of mental well-being.

Meanwhile, public records reveal the repercussions of the measure and the significant impact on students, with elementary, middle, and high schoolers being sent to DAEP programs or facing suspension for vaping incidents. The enforcement of the law raises questions about its effectiveness in addressing youth vaping, while highlighting the challenges faced by schools in navigating its implementation.

How did we get here?

Sadly such drastic measures are the result of alarmist headlines about vaping, as well as fearmongering resulting from misinformation and biased studies. A 2023 study led by infamous anti-vape advocate Dr. Stanton Glantz, said that more young adults are vaping within five minutes of waking up.

Published on Jama Network Open, the study “Nicotine Addiction and Intensity of e-Cigarette Use by Adolescents in the US, 2014 to 2021,” reported that within the 151 573 respondents surveyed, age of vaping initiation decreased and intensity of use and addiction increased between 2014 and 2021. The study added that by 2019, more users were taking their first puffs within 5 minutes of waking in comparison to smokers and users of all other tobacco products combined.

Teen vaping rates are actually dropping

Meanwhile research has consistently shown that this increase in vaping has led to a significant decrease in smoking. Data released a year earlier by the Arizona Youth Survey (AYS), reported that since 2016, ever-smoking among 8th graders had declined by 73.4%, among 10th graders by 70.5%, and among 12th graders by 69.8%.

The survey found that only 3.7% of 8th graders, 6.2% of 10th graders, and 9.4% of 12th graders, reported ever trying a combustible cigarette. Moreover, it revealed, vaping among teens had peaked in 2018 and has steadily declined ever since. In fact, similar patterns about declining teen vaping rates have been reported not only in other US states, but also worldwide.

Just more of what does not work

Meanwhile, numerous studies and historical examples indicate that prohibition is largely ineffective. For instance, the prohibition of alcohol in the United States during the 1920s led to the rise of organized crime, widespread smuggling, and the proliferation of illicit alcohol production. Similarly, the global war on drugs has failed to curb drug use or availability, instead fuelling black markets, violence, and mass incarceration.

Contemporary research on vaping prohibition suggests similar outcomes. Countries with strict vaping bans, such as Australia, are experiencing flourishing black markets and increased use among youth. While countries which regulate vaping products, such as the UK, are witnessing reductions in smoking rates and safer consumption practices. These findings underscore the limitations of prohibitionist approaches in addressing complex public health issues such as teen vaping, highlighting the need for evidence-based regulation and harm reduction strategies.

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