LIVERMORE FALLS/JAY — Regional School Unit 73 board of directors were told vape pens and e-cigarettes have become a huge problem in the district.

The Healthy Community Coalition of Franklin County (HCC) will be holding a meeting Jan. 8 at 6 p.m. in the Spruce Mountain Middle School cafeteria for parents and community members to learn more about vape pens and e-cigarettes.

Spruce Mountain High School Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Marc Keller said last year he saw two vape pens all year. About a dozen have been seized from students already this year.

“There have been 31 suspensions this year based around these things. Only three were repeat offenses,” Keller said. “It’s usually numerous kids at once. They’re passing them around. I can be talking with a student and have it happening across the room.”

SMMS Principal Scott Albert said there have been five suspensions at the middle school this year. One was a seventh grade student, the others from the eighth grade. Each grade at the school will have a HCC presentation on vape pens during school on Jan. 7.

On page 22 of the SMHS student handbook section on tobacco use it states: In addition, students are further prohibited from possessing, using, selling, distributing or dispensing tobacco products (including e cigarettes) in school buildings, facilities and on school grounds and buses during school sponsored events away from school property and at all other times.

Vape pens can be purchased at local stores or online. They can be obtained from friends or parents.

“I had one parent upset their son’s Juul (a commonly available brand) was stolen at school,” Keller said. “Juul is the most common one. A starter kit which contains the pen and four pods (refills) costs about $50. Four pods can be purchased for $10 online. A ten-year old with a pre-paid credit card can purchase them.”

Vape pens have a mechanical piece that heats the vapor and a pod that holds the fluid. That fluid may be a nicotine or marijuana product. Some have a fruit or candy fragrance.

He said there are about 200 puffs per cartridge, the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes.

Keller said the students are very discreet. It’s easy to tuck the pens into a shirt or waistband. They can be recharged on a computer USB port.

“Students are going in bathrooms, locker rooms. They’re doing it in the classroom too.

“Cell phone camera cases are coming out with vape pens. Some look like big guitar picks. There are YouTube videos showing how to take apart a Sharpie to hide a vape pen. Now I have to check,” he said.

Keller said students are getting sick of the vape pens and are telling about their use. Cameras in hallways and on the buses pick it up.

SMHS Principal TJ Plourde said staff was given a ‘Show and Tell’ at the beginning of the school year.

“That’s another piece for getting on top of it, making it easier to catch. If they smell something, they’re right on it,” Plourde said.

He said there is nothing in state law to charge someone under 18 for anything to do with a vape pen. With tobacco, the police can be called.

“The Legislature is in the midst of making new statutes that will make it possible to charge kids with a juvenile summons,” Plourde said.

Keller said there is no way of telling if the liquid in a vape pen is nicotine or marijuana without a test kit. Police departments no longer have them now that marijuana is legal in Maine.

Keller said there is no information available on the long-term effects of usage on the body.

“They’re too new. There is a high metal content in them, high lead. How’s that going to affect the body,” he asked.

Keller said a Vermont principal told him he has never seen a fad like this that has taken off so quickly and is so widespread.

Lorri Brown from the HCC said they’ve been asked for information or assistance from all school districts in Franklin County and Northern Oxford County.

“It’s a nationwide trend,” she said.