GENEVA – Geneva High School officials reported 19 e-cigarette violations from Aug. 29 to Jan. 10 resulting in more than 20 internal suspensions and nine external suspensions that were combined with other infractions, suspension records show.
Speaking at a Feb. 4 special Committee of the Whole meeting, Police Chief Eric Passarelli said Geneva school officials have been pushing city officials to take a more enforcement type stance on the use of e-cigarettes by students.
“They are having issues in the washrooms,” Passarelli said. “They’ve been handling discipline internally.”
Geneva District 304 suspension records show they made 12 referrals of e-cigarette violators to a class for alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
Passarelli suggested that aldermen consider regulating e-cigarettes the way it regulates tobacco use. Those under 18 who are caught with e-cigarettes would face a fine starting with a $25 ticket for a first offense, and then increasing the fines for subsequent offenses.
Illinois law restricts the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products to those who are 18 or older.
Because the city’s current tobacco ordinance does not regulate vaping or e-cigarettes among juveniles, Passarelli said school officials would have to refer students caught with the products to the juvenile court system.
“This is an issue that the [high school] deans and everyone else has come to the city for some time now, we need to address this,” Mayor Kevin Burns said. “Because they feel – if I may, no pun intended – handcuffed in what little they can do. Other than if you are an athlete or in band, there are punishments. But if a student does not participate in extra curricular activities, then they are thrown to the court system.”
Second Ward Alderman Richard Marks agreed with an ordinance to aid the school district in trying to reduce e-cigarette use.
“I think if the school wants it, I see no problem with it whatsoever,” Marks said. “And the school has been asking for it, let’s help them out. I think it’s a good policy.”
Michael Isaacson, assistant director of community health at the Kane County Health Department, said statistics show an increase in e-cigarette use among youth.
Kane County high school seniors reported in 2016 that 19 percent used e-cigarettes. But by 2018, the survey showed usage almost doubled to 28 percent among seniors, Isaacson said.
“Because the phenomenon is so new, we don’t know, as a society, what the long-term health impacts are,” Isaacson said. “Its growth had been remarkable.”
There is a “harm reduction” aspect to e-cigarettes, Isaacson said, such as if you have an uncle who has been smoking cigarettes for for years, then quits because he switches to vaping.
“You’re not actually getting over your addiction, you are continuing it,” Isaacson said, because e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance.
Manufacturers seem to make e-cigarettes more attractive to young people with bubble gum and tutti-frutti flavoring.
"That's an easy way to get a young person hooked," 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, vaping is still the No. 1 tool used to stop smoking, Isaacson said.
“But research is still limited as to whether vaping is as dangerous,” Isaacson said.
In the most recent Illinois Youth Survey for Kane County, strong ordinances and taxing tobacco has driven down smoking among youth, Isaacson said.
“But this new thing, that we didn’t have any rules in place, has really blossomed,” Isaacson said. “The tobacco industry is very heavily invested in e-cigarettes right now.”
Burns said Altria, a giant tobacco conglomerate, invested $12.8 billion in the e-cigarette company Juul.
“It raises the question, ‘Why?’” Burns said.
Fifth Ward Alderman Michael Clements said he is concerned about young people becoming addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes.
“We do not want to end up with a whole generation of people addicted to vaping,” Clements said.
Aldermen agreed to consider an ordinance regulating e-cigarettes at a future meeting.