Shawnee Mission School District looks to pursue legal action against e-cigarette manufacturers

The Shawnee Mission School District will look legal action against e-cigarette businesses. Photo credit Vaping360. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Weeks after Olathe Public Schools took a similar step, the Shawnee Mission Board of Education on Monday approved a measure authorizing the pursuit of legal action against e-cigarette manufacturers and other companies that could be responsible for an “epidemic” of vaping and nicotine addiction among students.

Prior to the approval of the resolution, Shelby Rebeck, the district’s director of health services, delivered a presentation outlining the problems Shawnee Mission and other districts have experienced with student use of e-cigarettes. Because of the way devices like JUUL deliver nicotine into the body, young people can quickly become addicted to the chemical. Once addicted, they have problems making it through a school day without experiencing heavy cravings, anxiety or irritability in the absence of another hit. As such, Shawnee Mission teachers have reported students literally using vaping devices in the classroom.

“You can take a puff of it and then blow it into your hoodie or a flap,” Rebeck told the board. “And it’s water vapor, so it just dissipates. It doesn’t linger in the air as a combustible cigarette.”

Shawnee Mission is far from alone in seeing massive growth in the use of e-cigarettes among students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month reported a 48% increase in use of e-cigarettes among middle schoolers from 2017 to 2018. The jump was 78% among high schoolers in the same time frame. More than a third of students say they vape on a regular basis, according to the CDC figures in Rebeck’s presentation.

The district says that student use of vaping products and the need to address student nicotine addiction has diverted nurses, social workers, resource officers, counselors and administrators from attending to other priorities.

The resolution approved by the board Monday authorizes law firms of Goza & Honnold L.L.C.; Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C.; Wagstaff and Cartmell, LLP; and Gacovino, Lake and Associates, P.C., to “investigate and initiate litigation and file suit against any necessary parties to recover damages suffered by the District as a result of the manufacture, marketing, and sale of e-cigarette and vaping devices, and to seek all appropriate relief.”

Board member Patty Mach, a lawyer by training, said she was pleased to see the district considering the measure, but recused herself to avoid the appearance of any conflict. The remaining board members unanimously approved the measure.