The Kansas State Board of Education’s decision to throw its weight behind an anti-vaping campaign is good news for all Kansans — but especially those young ones whose health is threatened by the spread of e-cigarettes.
According to Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter, the board is taking action on multiple fronts.
By a unanimous vote earlier this month, members “agreed to formalize and expand an ad-hoc task force that recommended swift action to dampen demand by youths for the sweet-flavored alternative to smoking. The state board also endorsed inclusion of information on dangers of vaping in model health education curriculum standards and agreed to the need for development of a web-based information hub on e-cigarettes.”
The challenge, it appears, is that vaping has spread at wildfire-like speed throughout Kansas schools. Some estimates hold that half of all the state’s high school students are involved. That’s a shocking, epidemic-style crisis.
“That is absolutely what we’re seeing,” said Randy Watson, commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, in Carpenter’s coverage. “This takes a different response.”
While e-cigarettes may seem safer than the traditional kind, their long-term health effects are still unknown. And while they may help some adults stop smoking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that they aren’t safe for young people, pregnant women or those who don’t smoke already.
The issue? Vaping is still a nicotine-delivery system, and nicotine is an addictive drug. And as the CDC notes, “Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.”
Education and enforcement are needed, the the state board’s action is a helpful start. But there should also be efforts to ensure that young people are not allowed to buy e-cigarettes or vaping supplies. The notion that the drug is lower-risk than traditional tobacco products has created a laissez faire attitude, making vaping spread even more quickly.
At the same time, officials should move prudently. Moral panics involving the welfare of children have been common throughout our country’s history, and sometimes drastic actions can have counterproductive effects. The worst outcome would be to increase investments in prevention and have that somehow glamorize vaping in the eyes of children.
All told, Kansas officials are taking the right approach in treating the spread of vaping seriously. That attitude should be shared by parents, teachers and those who sell vaping products.