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Even though the verdict’s still out as to whether or not electronic cigarettes are safer than actual cigarettes, the Los Alamos School Board isn’t taking any chances.
At this week’s board meeting the board and the school administration both agreed to ban them outright while they continue to craft an official policy regarding electronic cigarettes.
For now, electronic cigarettes are off limits to visitors, staff, teachers and students. No one on school campus can have them, regardless if they contain nicotine or not.
One reason administrators have not come up with a policy yet is that the board and the administration felt they do not have enough information about them to craft something specific and comprehensive. At the meeting, board members noted that even the federal government doesn’t know what type of impact inhaling synthetic nicotine has on one’s health.
“The jury’s out completely,” board member Dave Foster said at the meeting. “No one really knows what the negative health impacts are, in addition to the nicotine as well as the other toxic chemicals,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn also asked the board to hold off on making a policy, since the Federal Food and Drug Administration has not yet come up with any type of real regulation regarding the devices. He felt that if they made a policy now, they would only have to revisit it again once the FDA did come out with specific regulation.
Board Secretary Matt Williams wondered if the nicotine was tobacco-based, or if was totally synthetic. If it was a derivative of the tobacco found in actual cigarettes, then he said their role in crafting an “e-cig” policy would be much easier.
“The school policy does say no one can use tobacco in any form. If the nicotine fluid does happen come from tobacco, then Mike Johnson (LAHS assistant principal) may already be able enforce it,” he said.
There’s also the issue of universal enforcement; what to do about public events held on school grounds, sports, etc.
Los Alamos Federation of School Employees President Ellen Mills asked the board how it was going to enforce the ban during sporting events.
“You have to ask yourself when you have these night games, and it’s dark, and you have visitors, what do you do?” she said, adding that she too was for a full ban on school grounds.
Board Vice President Kevin Honnell said however they might want to start “wrestling with the issue sooner rather than later,” adding that there is an easy way to achieve universal enforcement, and that like some of his fellow board members, he’s not even sure yet of the right approach when it comes to universal enforcement among those over 18, faculty, staff and visitors.
He noted that school districts have always been allowed to adapt more conservative policies than state or federal law allows. He used the policy regarding weaponry as an example.
“I don’t know the answer, but I know that even despite law that isn’t in place right now, schools are allowed the latitude to put restrictions that exceed what’s allowed by law,” he said. “You can’t carry pen knives onto the campus, you can’t carry toy guns onto the campus, you have to dress a certain way, all of which are allowed off campus. We don’t have to be restrained by ambiguities in state law. And, if state law should change, then we go back and change policy. We do that all the time.”
Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt told the board that whatever the board decides, he will institute prohibition immediately, as well as get his staff caught up on the school wide ban as soon as possible.
“I will contact my building administrators about starting an education about e-cigarettes being removed from the campuses, and if we do see that and observe that then we will initiate a you’re-not-going-to-do-that ordinance,” he said.