In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Steven Senne | AP

Members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee are considering a bill that would ban the use of e-cigarettes or vaping on school grounds.

Studies have shown that programs to discourage smoking traditional tobacco products have worked in reducing use over the years, but research released this week indicates that tobacco use in any form has increased by 38 percent in the last year, driven by the growing popularity of vaping. In 2015, Maine banned smoking on school grounds but did not specifically address the use of electronic smoking devices. While some individual school districts have banned vaping, education advocates say it should be a statewide law.

Dick Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals Association, said he heard an earful at a recent meeting of principals.

“What we heard from all of them is this the biggest disciplinary issue taking the most time of anything they do in high schools across the state at this particular point in time,” Durost said. “It’s happening in the bathroom; it’s happening on the buses.”

The Maine School Management Association and the Maine Education Association, the union that represents most Maine public school teachers, also spoke in support of the legislation.

The panel also heard from Jocelyn Ruffner, a middle school student from Yarmouth, who said e-cigarettes are causing problems at her school.

“I see kids around me that are affected by this, and it’s a really big problem that needs to be addressed,” Ruffner said. “But not only is there a physical effect, there is also a mental effect in that people don’t want to participate in school as much.”

The committee was also told about the latest data in Maine which indicate that one out of every five high school students is using e-cigarettes.

Hillary Schneider, the state government relations director for the American Cancer Society and Cancer Action Network, said the trend is troubling given that many vaping cartridges have more nicotine than cigarettes and can cause serious health problems. She supports the bill and supports expanding it.

“We recommend further clarifying Section 2 to clearly say that tobacco use is not allowed at any time by anyone, even when school is not in session,” Schneider said. “And we recommend the prohibition on tobacco use be applied to all school-sponsored events even if they are not on school grounds or in school buildings.”

There was no testimony opposing the bill, but supporters of the legislation noted that lobbyists for the vaping industry were present in the hearing room. The measure will now be considered by the committee but is expected to have at least enough support to go on to the full Legislature for its consideration.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.