A new effort aims to crackdown on vaping in a Chicago suburb, focusing on educating kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes instead of punishing them with a fine.
The new plan before the Des Plaines City Council Monday would treat e-cigs, juuls and e-liquids like tobacco, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy, but it would also include an alternative penalty for Des Plaines students who are first-time offenders.
Instead of a $25 minimum fine, the students would be enrolled in a diversion or education program to learn about the danger of such products.
“I don’t think the kids realize what they’re putting into their bodies,” said Maine West High School Resource Officer Mike Beauvais. “I think they just think it’s water and flavor and sugar.”
Health and education officials across the country are raising alarms over wide underage use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.
The devices heat liquid into an inhalable vapor that's sold in sugary flavors like mango and mint- and often with the addictive drug nicotine. They're marketed to smokers as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, but officials say they're making their way to teens with surprising ease.
A new wave of smaller vapes has swept through schools in recent months, officials say, replacing bulkier e-cigarettes from the past. It's now common in some schools to find students crowded into bathrooms to vape, or performing vape tricks in class.
“I’ve been school resource officer for four years and maybe last year and a half kids walking around school doing it in bathroom, hallways, in class, charging their things all over,” Beauvais said.
Maine West is part of Maine Township District 207, which includes numerous schools in Park Ridge, where a similar education program has been in place for about a year.
“They’ve had really good success with it,” said Des Plaines Police chief William Kushner.
The Des Plaines City Council will consider the alternative nicotine products ordinance at its 7 p.m. Monday meeting.