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Utah legislature considers stronger vaping rules for schools

In this Tuesday, April 10, 2018 photo, Marshfield High School Principal Robert Keuther displays vaping devices that were confiscated from students in such places as restrooms or hallways at the school in Marshfield, Mass. Utah school officials say there are no clear rules allowing them to confiscate e-cigarettes from students, currently. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill before Utah lawmakers would give schools more power to tackle vaping.

School officials spoke in favor of the bill, which would give the schools the ability to confiscate e-cigarettes and other devices, at a committee hearing Wednesday on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

“We have just seen a huge number of students using e-cigarettes and vapes in our schools. We work with four police departments, and there is a lot of confusion over what to do with confiscated items, so that clarifies that for us,” BJ Weller, Director of Responsive Services for the Canyons School District, said.

Schools say current vaping rules aren’t clear

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, said vaping has become a major headache for schools. And because the law is unclear on the developing technology, school leaders have often been confused about what to do next. For example, are they obligated to return them to students under the same rules that would require them to return a confiscated cell phone or other electronic devices?

School surveys showed nearly 10 percent of Utah students between the grades of six and 12 reported vaping in the last month. That works out to about 30,000 children in the state.

“We know from the SHARP survey data, it’s more than 30,000 students in our state. A lot of students. And it’s increasing,” Pulsipher said. “Some schools have boxes of these devices that they’re not sure what to do with.”

“The vaping issue is a huge deal,” Pulsipher said.

Early intervention and education

The bill also addresses intervention and prevention measures for vaping. It calls for education starting as early as elementary school.

“If there ever was a state that could send a very powerful message about what is right and what is wrong here, it’s the state of Utah,” said Terry Shoemaker, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association.

Parents like Todd Hougaard with the Utah PTA say their kids can’t even go to the bathroom at school without lots of students in there vaping.

“There’s a meme going around that says, ‘What are these toilets doing in the vaping room?'” he told the Education Interim Committee.

The full Utah House of Representatives plans to take up the legislation in 2020. If approved there, it would then move on to the state Senate for approval, then to the governor for a signature.

Utah health officials say the state is dealing with more than 100 cases of vaping-related lung injury, higher than the national rate.