Four school

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MO­RIAH BALINGIT mo­[email protected]­post.com Magda Jean-louis con­trib­uted to this re­port.

sys­tems are su­ing the e-cig­a­rette com­pany Juul, al­leg­ing it tar­geted teenagers in its mar­ket­ing.

Schools across the coun­try are grap­pling with an epi­demic of va­p­ing among their stu­dents, with ado­les­cents con­ceal­ing vapes in their sweat­shirt sleeves, sneak­ing puffs in school bath­rooms and even sell­ing vapes — il­le­gal for mi­nors — in the hall­ways of high schools.

Now, four school sys­tems are su­ing the e-cig­a­rette com­pany Juul, al­leg­ing it tar­geted teenagers in mar­ket­ing and spurred the epi­demic that has sapped schools and ed­u­ca­tors of time and re­sources as they reckon with how to help stu­dents hooked on the pop­u­lar prod­uct.

“We’re tired of com­pa­nies that just want to make money at chil­dren’s ex­pense,” said Whit­ney Meiss­ner, su­per­in­ten­dent of the tiny La Con­ner School Dis­trict north of Seat­tle, which filed suit Mon­day.

The law­suits come as of­fi­cials strug­gle to con­tain an out­break of mys­te­ri­ous ill­nesses and deaths linked to va­p­ing — al­though most cases in­volved pa­tients who vaped THC, the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in mar­i­juana.

Juul did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the law­suits, but in the past it has de­fended its prod­ucts by say­ing they were de­signed to help adult smok­ers quit. The com­pany also has shut down so­cial me­dia ac­counts and stopped sales of fla­vored prod­ucts to re­tail out­lets in an ef­fort to curb teen use.

More than 1,000 peo­ple have been sick­ened and at least 21 peo­ple have died in con­nec­tion with va­p­ing. Tues­day, New York Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo (D) re­ported that a 17-year-old boy from the Bronx had died of a va­p­ing-re­lated ill­ness, the youngest vic­tim and the first teen.

Even as in­ves­ti­ga­tors fo­cus on black-mar­ket THC prod­ucts as the root of the ill­nesses, many states have moved to curb all va­p­ing, cau­tion­ing all users to quit or ban­ning the sale of va­p­ing prod­ucts. Pe­di­a­tri­cians warn that lit­tle is known about the long-term ef­fects of va­p­ing and re­port see­ing alarm­ing symp­toms in young peo­ple who be­come ad­dicted to nico­tine.

Mean­while, sta­tis­tics show va­p­ing rates have been ris­ing among ado­les­cents. About 1 in 9 high school se­niors re­ported va­p­ing nico­tine on a near-daily ba­sis, ac­cord­ing to a govern­ment-funded sur­vey, and a quar­ter re­ported va­p­ing at least once in the last 30 days.

The four dis­tricts — Olathe Pub­lic Schools in Kansas, Three Vil­lage Cen­tral School Dis­trict in New York, Fran­cis How­ell School Dis­trict in Mis­souri and La Con­ner School Dis­trict — contend that Juul pur­pose­fully mar­keted to teenagers and en­gi­neered prod­ucts to make them pop­u­lar among young peo­ple. The sleek de­vices emit a thin va­por and look like USB drives, mak­ing them dif­fi­cult for adults to de­tect.

“The law­suits that we filed . . . were the first in what we fully an­tic­i­pate will be many, many more to fol­low in the com­ing weeks and months as many school dis­tricts have de­cided to go on the of­fen­sive to com­bat the epi­demic of youth va­p­ing in the na­tion’s schools,” said Jonathan P. Ki­ef­fer of the Kansas City, Mo., law firm Wagstaff & Cart­mell, which is rep­re­sent­ing three of the school sys­tems. “Amer­ica’s schools are truly on the front lines of this epi­demic, which has crossed all ge­o­graphic and de­mo­graphic lines and is in­creas­ing at an alarm­ing rate in all re­gions of the coun­try and im­pact­ing ur­ban, sub­ur­ban and ru­ral schools.”

Schools have ex­pended time and re­sources crack­ing down on stu­dents caught va­p­ing. Some pur­chased pricey de­vices to de­tect va­por from e-cig­a­rettes in school bath­rooms. The fall­out has also in­cluded ex­penses re­lated to dis­ci­pline, with stu­dent sus­pen­sions sky­rock­et­ing in some schools. In the Fran­cis How­ell School Dis­trict, sus­pen­sions for nico­tine in­frac­tions more than quadru­pled over the past four years, with 248 stu­dents pun­ished in the 20182019 school year, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit.

School sys­tems said the epi­demic has sapped staff time. Some dis­tricts have hired ad­di­tional staff to mon­i­tor bath­rooms and tu­tors to help stu­dents who miss school for va­p­ing-re­lated in­frac­tions. Other dis­tricts are los­ing state fund­ing be­cause of the num­ber of stu­dents they sus­pend for va­p­ing.

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