SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT as they call themselves, told Casselberry city commissioners Monday that vaping is everywhere in their schools.
They said their fellow students have easy access to e-cigarettes such as vape pens and Juul devices -- the small, metal computer-hardware-looking rectangle -- and that commissioners have the power to limit that access.
They asked commissioners to increase the age to purchase e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. They also asked commissioners to prohibit stores within 1,000 feet of a school from selling e-cigarettes and they want commissioners to add a tax on e-cigarettes sold by retailers.
Alfredo Maldonado, of the Florida Department of Health Seminole, is the coordinator of SWAT. His 11-year-old child is in the program.
Maldonado said e-cigarette makers market toward young people and stores make it too easy for young people to buy them.
Many convenience stores now sell e-cigarettes.
"When you look at the target, when you look at the promotional, it's all targeted toward youth," Maldonado said. "When we go to any convenience store, we see tobacco products, we see Juuls, and it's all at the eye level. And it can be mixed with the candies. The packages now are like candies."
Maldonado said students 18 and older can buy as many e-cigarettes as they want with one driver's license. Sometimes they'll purchase devices for underage students.
"There was a 44.4 percent increase of youth using e-cigs ... in the past year," Maldonado said.
Ted Kwong, spokesman for Juul Labs, said the e-cigarette maker never intended the device to fall into the hands of young people.
"JUUL Labs shares a common goal with policy makers, regulators, parents, school officials, and community stakeholders - preventing youth from initiating on nicotine," Kwong said. "We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world's one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated."
Maldonado said the Florida Department of Health has seen an increase in asthma and emergency room visits among young e-cigarette users as well as an addiction to nicotine. He said the long-term health effects on the body and brain are unknown.
"You can find pesticides, aerosols and now mixing it with THC or opioids (in e-cigarette cartridges)," Maldonado said. "We have a lot of teen pregnancies and when the teen is using e-cigs, well her brain is still developing, and now you have a baby developing that is also in taking nicotine as well."
The Casselberry City Commission did not vote on the students' proposals and did not say if or when it would.
Maldonado said Lake Mary, Oviedo and Sanford city commissioners have all heard a similar proposal from the SWAT students.
He said Alachua became the first and only county in Florida to raise the purchasing age of e-cigarettes to 21, ban stores within 1,000 feet of a school from selling e-cigarettes and add a tax on e-cigs.