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 will hold a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m. in the Spruce Mountain Middle School cafeteria for parents and community members to learn more about the health issues related to vape pens and electronic 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 this year.

“There have been 31 suspensions this year based around these things,” Keller said. “Only three were repeat offenses. 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.”

Vape pens are used to heat up a vaporizer tank or cartridge to produce vapor from dry herbs, nicotine or marijuana. Some have a fruit or candy fragrance.

Middle School Principal Scott Albert said five students — one seventh-grader and four eighth-graders — have been suspended at that school. Each grade will get a Healthy Community Coalition presentation on vape pens during school Jan. 7.

According to the Spruce Mountain High School student handbook section on tobacco, ” … 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” is prohibited.

Keller said a starter kit that contains a pen and four refills costs about $50. Four refill pods can be purchased online for $10. “A 10-year-old with a pre-paid credit card can purchase them,” he said.

He said each cartridge can produce about 200 puffs, 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,” he said. “They’re doing it in the classroom, too. Cellphone 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.”

High school 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,” Plourde said. “If they smell something, they’re right on it.”

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 whether 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 had never seen a fad like this that has taken off so quickly and is so widespread.

Lorri Brown, program director for the Healthy Community Coalition, said the coalition been asked for information or assistance from all school districts in Franklin County and Northern Oxford County.

“It’s a nationwide trend,” she said.

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Student use of vape pens and e-cigarettes has escalated this year at Spruce Mountain high and middle schools. Seen are vape pens taken from students at the high school. Third from lower left is a Juul, a popular brand that is long and thin. In the upper right are refill cartridges for it. (Livermore Falls Advertiser photo by Pam Harnden)

Page 24 of the SMHS student handbook lists the actions that will be taken for violating the school’s tobacco use policy:

First Violation

1. Parents/legal guardians shall be sent written notice regarding the tobacco violation which shall be signed by the parent/legal guardian and returned to the school.

2. Local law enforcement authorities will be notified if the student is under 18 years of age.

3. Ten (10) day suspension – five of these days may be rescinded if the student agrees to and attends a tobacco cessation program approved by the school administrator and guidance counselor. Proof of satisfactory completion of the cessation program and a follow up interview with the school counselor is required.

4. The student will not be allowed to participate in any extra-or co-curricular activity, except practice, for ten (10) school days following the suspension.

Second Violation

1. Parents/legal guardians shall be sent written notice regarding the tobacco violation which shall be signed by the parent/legal guardian and returned to the school. A parent/legal guardian shall also be required to meet with the Principal within five days of the violation.

2. Local law enforcement authorities will be notified if the student is under 18 years of age.

3. Ten (10) day suspension

4. Suspended from all extra- and co-curricular activities for the remainder of the season, or duration of the activity, loss of award.

5. Student will receive a nonclinical assessment by an RSU 73 Student Counselor.


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