GARDINER — The Maine School Administrative District 11 School Board voted last week to join a mass-action lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc., along with 289 other school districts across the country.

The mass-action lawsuit has been filed against the large company and other distributors of vaping products. If the lawsuit is successful, all participating schools will receive funds to address vaping and reimburse districts for time lost to past vaping-related issues.

MSAD 11 Superintendent Pat Hopkins was contacted by attorneys from San Diego-based Frantz Law Group to join the lawsuit. The district’s school board members unanimously voted to join the lawsuit, citing students’ issues with the products in Gardiner-area schools.

“We have a number of students who have been vaping,” Hopkins said, “and we have a significant amount of students who have consumed administration time.”

The vaping companies allege there has been “no harm” to students who vape, Hopkins said, but the lawsuit will “demonstrate otherwise.” She said the attorneys told her school districts “would move favorably as a plaintiff.”

Hopkins said potential money from the lawsuit could pay for installation of “vaping smoke detectors,” which can run at almost $5,000, or to hire additional staff to work with students on addiction.

School board member Matthew Marshall wondered if vaping would be more of an issue for students when they return to school full time next year, as opposed to hybrid or remote learning they worked with during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have no idea what we may be facing next year,” he said. “It’s an addictive product, they may have been vaping at home. We could be looking at a huge issue next year. We should take the opportunity to combat the issue.”

Hopkins said MSAD 11’s time commitment would be low, with Gardiner Area High School Principal Chad Kempton providing data through a 30-question survey about the school’s experience with vaping products.

Courtney Angelosante, a board-certified behavior analyst, said schools will have to be “prepared” to address a number of student’s needs, mainly around reengagement efforts among students, which can lead to “intense levels of risk.” She said schools can prevent “risky behavior” by identifying disengagement early on using “screening tools,” but that factors such as the coronavirus and remote learning has made it more difficult to spot in some cases.

“We want to screen them for their attendance, for their behavior, somatic complaints, all those things, we want to be screening for, but things are going to be different,” Angelosante said. “We know over the past year, some students had remarkable engagement at home and we have seen some engagement fall off for a number of students, where they might log on but not turn their camera on, or not logging on, period. We have lost some communication with families.”

She said as for a substance use intervention, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support implementation has reduced the rates of substance use in high schools, and can look like screening student behavior.

Angelosante also suggested using guidelines from the Maine School Substance Use Policy Guide to partner with stakeholders in the community, like law enforcement and parents, to do prevention education, as a way for students to talk about use and to educate on where to get help and what to do if someone is in trouble.

In a Maine Integrated Youth Health Study from 2019, 28.7% of Maine high school students reported using an e-cigarette or vaping product in the last 30 days, an increase of 15.3% of students from a similar survey in 2017. Maine’s survey results were 1% higher than the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

According to Vape Free Maine, using nicotine products under the age of 25 can impact the brain’s response to memory, attention and learning and 75% of the products use a chemical called “diacetyl” which has been linked to “severe lung disease.” Each “Juul Pod” can have as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.

Moving forward, Angelosante suggest schools prepare for fall’s unknowns.

“We aren’t really sure what it’s going to look like, with families and those who aren’t engaged, we are waiting to see, we can’t predict the future,” she said. “In some ways, I’ve been encouraged with the level of family engagement and at the same place, I’m worried for the students we lost track of and who are not engaged or balancing their social skills.”

After educating himself on the products, school board member Jim Lothridge said he was surprised to see how easily they can fit in pockets or backpacks.

“I hope we get money from it, but I have less concern about that, I’m more concerned about vaping in our own schools,” he said. “I hope we can do interventions to let them know how bad it really is.”


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