KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Olathe school board on Friday voted to authorize a lawsuit against an e-cigarette manufacturer, saying the use of its products “poses a significant risk to students’ health.”
At a special meeting, the Olathe Public Schools District 233 School Board voted unanimously to pass a resolution that allows the district’s legal counsel to sue Juul, a manufacturer of e-cigarettes, and its distributors and retailers, according to a news release from the district.
“As a Board of Education, we have a duty to do what’s right for students, the community and our future generations,” school board President Shannon Wickliffe said in the release. “Vaping is an epidemic and, as community leaders, we’re taking the lead to protect our students and future leaders. The hidden dangers of vaping are triggering a health crisis and we’re taking action.”
Officials said the litigation, which they hoped to see filed as soon as possible, would have no financial cost to the district.
Between 2017 and 2018, high school usage of e-cigarettes increased by 78%, according to the surgeon general of the U.S. Public Health Service.
“(T)he use of JUUL and other vaping devices poses a significant risk to students’ health and education, both in Kansas and across the country,” the resolution says.
Students’ use of Juul devices has “created a disruption of the District’s educational program” and “forced the District to divert resources to curb and prevent student JUUL usage,” according to the resolution.
"It's a distraction for students; it's a distraction for staff and administrators," Olathe Public Schools Superintendent John Allison said. "It does have an impact on our resources, time and focus. Trying to monitor and police the vaping in school, dealing with the discipline."
According to officials, the youngest student caught vaping on school grounds was a fourth-grader. Any student found vaping or smoking a cigarette is given out-of-school suspension.
"They've watched their parents do it, and slipped it out of the house and wanted to see what it was about and thought it looked cool," Allison said.
The superintendent said students are misled by the advertising surrounding e-cigarettes and don't understand the effects of vaping.
“Middle and high school students, we believe, have been targeted by e-cigarette and vaping manufacturers with false and misleading advertising,” Allison said. “As smart as our students are, they don’t understand the long-term ramifications of vaping and the amount of addictive chemicals they are dealing with. It’s our role to protect our students today and in the future.”
The Food and Drug Administration declared a vaping epidemic among teens last year. More than 800 lung illnesses and 12 deaths have been linked to vaping, including two deaths in Kansas and one in Missouri.
In a statement to 41 Action News on Thursday, Juul said the company is “committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world. Our product has always only been intended to be a viable alternative for the one billion current adult smokers in the world. We have never marketed to youth and do not want any non-nicotine users to try our products.”
The Goddard school district in suburban Wichita has also voted to filed a lawsuit against Juul.