Texas schools are now using extreme measures to catch students with e-cigarettes — and they’re doling out equally extreme punishments, including felony charges, to those who do get caught.
This week, the Texas Tribune published an article detailing the draconian measures that some of the state’s schools are taking to try and rein in what they see as a vaping epidemic among their students.
For example: Last year, students at Channing School were forced to roll up their sleeves to be searched for vaping paraphernalia before being allowed to attend classes. Coppell Independent School District has been using “vape-detecting technology” to detect the presence of vapor from e-cigarettes and then to alert faculty. Other measures in certain schools include requirements to sign out to use the bathroom and even the use of drug-sniffing dogs.
Getting caught, the Tribune reports, is no small issue. According to the news source, “an increasing number” of students are being suspended or even sent to “alternative schools designed for students with disciplinary problems” because of vaping. Others (a “smaller” yet “rapidly growing” group) are finding themselves expelled over suspicions that they were vaping THC — and the schools also call the police to have students arrested whenever this is the case.
“As vaping continues to outpace traditional smoking among the nation’s youth, students who a few years ago may have been charged with at most a misdemeanor for smoking a joint are now facing felony charges for having a vape pen in their backpacks,” the Tribune states.
The Tribune gives an example of one of these students: Thomas Williams-Platt, a 17-year-old Richarte High School student who was caught with a vape pen from a classmate that he claims he thought contained only CBD. He was busted because another student had reported the pen to the school’s assistant principal, who then called the police.
“He shook it and it was purple and he said, ‘There’s THC in it,’ put me in handcuffs and took me to jail,” Williams-Platt said.
As the Tribune notes, Williams-Platt’s age made him an adult in the eyes of Texas criminal-justice law. He wound up sitting alone for hours in a cell at Williamson County Jail, where, he claims, he was forced to listen to the people around him screaming in pain because they were withdrawing from drugs. He was charged with a felony and eventually sent to spend two months in the JuvenileJjustice Alternative Education Program, in an alternative school intended for students who, as the Tribune puts it, “commit crimes so serious they must be removed from their home schools.”
It’s absurd and it’s unfair, but it’s happening more and more in Texas — and both state employees and school officials agree that this increase is due to the crackdown on vaping.
Now, although I often write about how vaping nicotine is healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes (a Public Health England study in particular estimated that it was 95 percent safer), I am also not ignorant to the fact that there’s no way it can be good for you. What’s more, I am also aware that it may be particularly dangerous to minors, because their brains haven’t finished developing the way that adults’ have yet. It is for this reason, most likely, that many states, including Texas, have laws restricting the sale of vaping products to anyone younger than the age of 21.
At the same time, though, I also know of a few other things that can certainly be harmful to minors — and felony charges and jail time are certainly among the things on that list. In fact, even sending them to “alternative schools” is far too extreme. Williams-Platt compared the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program to “a super strict kindergarten,” where most of the focus was on adhering to procedural rules (such as walking in a straight line with other students with his hands behind his back and not wearing certain colors) rather than on actual academic enrichment, adding that most class time was spent sitting behind a computer screen.
To be sure, most vaping deaths were due to THC vapes. Yet even these are largely ones that have been obtained on the black market. In other words, the problem was in part created by government regulation, and now the government thinks that more regulation is the way to solve it?
Still, as I’ve already mentioned, I do understand that the risks may be very different when it comes to children. Regardless of this, though, this still represents an example of the government’s “help” making things worse.
As Julie Gunlock noted in a piece in National Review, it may be true that, while “lots of kids ‘try’ vaping,” the number of students who actually become addicted is small. In fact, according to CDC data, it’s only about 5.7 percent of teenagers — and that includes 18- and 19-year-olds. In other words? These laws are, first of all, in response to an epidemic that doesn’t exist. Worse, it’s not like they are net-neutral. Given the difference in the rates of teens having simply tried vaping versus those with an actual addiction, they have certainly placed at least some in inferior alternative schools or jail who were just dabbling and happened to get caught. Even for those who are addicted? Well, I really, really struggle to find even a single way in which any kid’s life has been improved by time spent in jail during his childhood.
The entire reasoning for strict anti-vaping laws is, supposedly, “the children.” That is what the government keeps telling me as an adult vaper . . . that the problem is so severe among “the kids” that it has to limit my individual rights. The truth is, though, I honestly struggle to accept this reasoning when an increasing number of children are being faced with life-altering challenges because of the very laws that are supposed to be there to protect them.
This story was previously covered in an article in Reason.