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FRANKFORT— Whether you call them vapes, vape pens or electronic cigarettes, the popular activity among teenagers is drawing some criticism in Frankfort.
Rep. Mark Hart, R-Falmouth, was joined by retired U.S. Marine Corps. veteran and current Pendleton County High School instructor Brian Melton at the Interim Joint Committee on Education on Tuesday to discuss the dangers of vaping and possible legislative solutions to the problem.
“We’re in the process of drafting legislation, which I hope to have ready and available to be filed first of January,” Hart said.
According to Melton’s presentation, the USDA reports that 2.6 million teens are using e-cigarettes and 25% use them daily with the majority of them vaping nicotine products.
Nicotine isn’t the only substance found in vapes, Melton said. Teens are also drawn to cannabis, THC containing and CBD, non-THC containing vape pens. Heroin and fentanyl vape pens also exist and could end up in the hands of teens, Melton added.
Melton encouraged the committee to consider changing state law to create harsher penalties for vaping in schools and to close loopholes regarding fentanyl-laced vaping products. He also asked the committee to consider legislation to provide more funding on anti-vaping education for students and education on how teachers can respond to a vaping-related medical emergency.
Current state law leaves it up to local school districts to decide the punishment for vaping at school.
“I think we would benefit from having something from the state that says any vaping device would have a harsher punishment or fine associated on a school campus,” Melton said.
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, asked if there is any data that supports harsher punishments leading to a reduction in vaping incidents in schools.
Melton said he did not currently have that data available.
Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Nicholasville, who is also an educator, agreed vaping is a major issue in schools that needs more attention, especially when it comes to educating parents on the dangers of vaping.
“I think that every dollar that we put into looking at increasing consequences for these offenses we also need to put an equal amount into educating parents on what these are,” he said. “… This technology is changing so fast. I remember having conferences with parents and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s flavored vapor.’ No, it’s not.”
Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, suggested asking students for their input on how to address vaping in schools.
“It’s great that we can pass laws, but if it’s our laws, it’s not going to have a whole lot of ownership among young people,” he said. “Surely, we’ve got some cadre of young people that understand this is a serious issue, and I’d like to give it back to them and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?”
Hart agreed and said Meredith’s suggestion to create a task force of the “best and brightest” teens is an “excellent idea.”
As of Oct. 18, Hart has not submitted an interim working draft related to vaping for the 2023 legislative session. During the interim, the Kentucky General Assembly cannot take any action on legislation. The 2023 legislative session begins Jan. 3.
The next Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting is currently scheduled for Nov. 1 at 11 a.m. For more information, visit legislature.ky.gov.