A bipartisan bill to help schools fight the supposed “epidemic” of teenage vaping was introduced in the Senate this week. The legislation has the unintentionally hilarious name the Smoke Free Schools Act.
Vaping is by definition smoke-free, of course. A school with a thousand vaping students would still be smoke-free. But U.S. Senators, despite regularly speaking out on the issue, may not be aware of that. It’s hard to tell exactly what they know, but you can bet that they get their information from the absolute worst sources.
The Smoke Free Schools Act is supposed to help schools find ways to combat the scourge of vaping and nicotine addiction, which the bill’s sponsors claim without evidence is a major issue. Here’s what the act does:
● Specifically bans vaping in schools and childcare settings
● Amends Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to clarify that e-cigarette prevention is an allowable use of funds
● Instructs the FDA to partner with the CDC and the Department of Education to conduct studies of best practices for schools to discourage e-cigarette use
● Instructs the FDA to study gaps in knowledge of the harms of e-cigarettes among youth, including injuries and poisoning
● Seeks further information on the dose-response association between e-cigarettes and combustible tobacco, and the current efforts by schools to use federal funding to combat e-cigarette use
● Instructs the Federal Trade Commission to consider including e-cigarettes in any studies they do relating to the marketing effects of traditional tobacco
The bill doesn’t seem to accomplish much, except to clear the way for federal funds to be spent on “e-cigarette prevention.” That probably benefits the drug warriors, police, and treatment specialists that have already scored big by creating anti-juuling campaigns and educational presentations for parents and students.
Otherwise, it looks like a way for a couple of senators to look like they’re doing something. Their press release notes that “e-cigarette use not only poses a health risk, but can be distracting for other students,” and the second part of that is right. Vaping in schools is disruptive — but treating vaping as a major threat to health is a way to distract from the real problems parents, teachers, and kids face today.
The bill was introduced by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall and Utah Republican Orrin Hatch. It’s supported by groups like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the National School Boards Association, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National PTA, and the Society for Public Health Education
“I am proud to join Senator Hatch in this important effort because e-cigarettes don’t belong in schools, and harmful chemicals don’t belong in our kids’ lungs,” Sen. Udall said in a statement. “These products use enticing flavors and stealthy designs to appeal to middle and high school students, fueling nicotine addiction and increasing their risk of tobacco use.
“This has lured a generation of kids into vaping and driven an epidemic among young people that’s reached truly alarming proportions,” said Udall. “We’ve got to put a stop to this crisis – and that starts in our schools.”
The Smoke Free Schools Act is the second bipartisan anti-vaping bill launched this year in the Senate. The first was Dick Durbin’s SAFE Kids Act, co-sponsored by the Illinois Democrat and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.
The Durbin-Murkowski legislation would require e-liquid manufacturers to prove that their non-tobacco flavors are proven smoking cessation products. That’s a standard no non-pharmaceutical product can meet. Such a law would spell the end of the independent vaping industry.
Thomas J. Gentzel, the CEO of the National School Boards Association, is quoted in Sen. Hatch’s press release saying, “NSBA thanks Senator Hatch for his efforts to assist school districts in ensuring that students are in safe and supportive learning environments.”
One can’t help but wonder if the educator has also thanked Hatch for the steroids and other dietary supplements high school athletes are taking in high numbers. That’s an actual health threat, and Hatch is as responsible for it as anyone.
Hatch authored a bill that prevents FDA regulation of dietary supplements until after they’re proven to be harmful. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 was co-sponsored by anti-vaping Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin (now retired). The bill allows supplement makers to make all kinds of medical claims without proof, and get off the hook with a throwaway disclaimer in fine print.
One might think the Utah senator — retiring after this year — would extend the same courtesy to the vapor industry, especially since vapor products have never been shown to cause harm, unlike dietary supplements. But that would require that the vapor industry be well-organized and wealthy enough to come up with a pile of cash for the senator’s campaign kitty, and to move 15 percent of its manufacturing to Utah.
Supplements are a $50 billion industry, and according to the Los Angeles Times, $7 billion of that business resides right there in Hatch’s home state. Supplements manufacturers have been generous donors to Hatch, and much of the industry grew up around its Senate patron’s backyard. Hatch’s son worked as a lobbyist for the industry too.
In unrelated but completely predictable news, a letter demanding FDA action on e-liquid flavors was sent by 21 Democratic senators to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb yesterday. The lawmakers want what they always want: full enforcement of all components of the Deeming Rule immediately, flavors off the market, and the wishes and needs of vapers and smokers ignored as usual.