NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Students getting high in school shows Indiana must act to discourage teens from vaping

News-Sentinel.com has been in favor of measures to discourage the use of vaping by teenagers in Indiana, including a House bill that died on the last day of this year’s General Assembly. We are concerned the increased use of e-cigarettes among young people will lead to cigarette smoking — and worse.

Not only are vaping liquids and vaping devices copycats for cigarette smoking (they usually contain nicotine), but some teens are using marijuana in electronic cigarettes to get high.

The Indianapolis Star reported on Thursday that school resource officers at Indiana’s largest high school say several students were sent to hospital emergency rooms after they used marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in electronic cigarettes and got so high they had to seek help at the school nurse’s office.

Carmel High School resource officer Shane VanNatter told the Star 17 students at the school with an enrollment of nearly 5,000 have been caught using, possessing or dealing THC vaping products during the school year. He said he’s seen students who vaped THC and were walking hallways “so stoned that they don’t know where they are. They’ll self-report,” he said. “They’ll come to the nurse and say, ‘I’m too high. Something’s wrong,'”

The Star pointed out that experts say the potency the devices may deliver in vaping THC may have given the students at Carmel a “much more intense high than expected.” Furthermore, there is no telltale odor from vaping, and the handheld devices students use are small enough that they could vape in class without being noticed.

House Bill 1444, authored by Crawfordsville Republican and physician Rep. Tim Brown, would have taxed nicotine-containing liquids used in electronic cigarettes at the rate of 4 cents per milliliter. The House approved the bill, 53-40, in February.

Brown introduced the bill out of concern that the increased use of e-cigarettes will lead many young people to smoke cigarettes.

In a News-Sentinel.com editorial on April 2, we urged the Indiana Senate to approve the tax the House proposed for vaping liquids. However, it passed out of the Senate with only a suggestion that a summer study committee research the issue rather than imposing the tax this year. The legislation ultimately didn’t survive the session because lawmakers couldn’t agree on how much the tax should be. The bill died without a vote on the last night of the 2019 Indiana General Assembly on April 24.

We think that’s unfortunate in light of the news report about Carmel High School. The Indy Star story reported that, according to a study by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, from 2017 to 2018, the number of teen-age students throughout the country who put marijuana in their vape pens rose from 4.9 percent to 7.5 percent.

In our editorial more than a month ago, we said Brown’s concerns that led to his bill were validated by the NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future survey of teenagers in December mentioned in the Star that showed 37.3 percent of 12th graders reported “any vaping” in the past 12 months, compared to just 27.8 percent in 2017. Previous NIDA studies showed that 30.7 percent of teens who used e-cigarettes began smoking within six months, compared with just 8 percent of teens who did not use e-cigarettes.

“I’m sure this will not be our last conversation,” House Speaker Brian Bosma said after the legislative session. “I personally believe we should have regulated vaping. It has become a near epidemic for young people.”

In spite of evidence that e-cigarettes may be effective smoking cessation tools and introduce fewer harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, we believe the effects of vaping on teens are skyrocketing in the wrong direction.

Let’s hope the essence of House Bill 1444 can be revived and approved in next year’s session and that schools and parents figure out other ways to discourage the practice of vaping among teens as well.

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