HAMLIN — The Lincoln County Board of Education is considering whether or not to join in mass litigation against the manufacturers of vaping products.
During a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday, April 26, at the central offices, the board discussed the nuisance that has been created by vape manufacturers, whose products are picked up by teens and brought to school.
Attorney Rusty Webb presented an opportunity to the board to join with hundreds of other school districts across West Virginia and the entire country who are suing the companies behind these products.
“It’s a lot like the opioid litigation. It claims that the Juul cigarette makers have created nuisance by falsely advertising to teenagers that these e-cigarettes are safe and not addictive, when the opposite is true. As a result of this advertising, it’s created a nuisance that the county boards of education have to clean up,” Webb said.
Webb said numerous boards of education have joined the effort, including 12 in West Virginia, with more joining every week.
“All around the country, they’re filing. What makes these types of cases different than your normal damages case is that you don’t have to prove what you’ve spent in the past, you just have to prove what it takes to fix it in the future. To do that, we hire experts who do surveys and they’ll end up testifying about what it would take to clean up — and for prevention, treatment and education — to get our students off of these electronic cigarettes,” Webb said.
The uptick in vaping at school comes on the heels of improvements that have been made in curbing tobacco use over the years, Webb said.
“Just when you were seeing statistics nationwide and even in West Virginia starting to go down. Then they were introduced to the e-cigarette, which is cooler, easier to hide, obviously. I know that a lot of school boards have had to purchase monitors. I know that your disciplinary actions have gone through the roof because of this,” Webb said.
There is no risk to the county BOE to join the lawsuit. The work is being done on a contingency fee basis. If there is no settlement, the law firms will eat the cost of the litigation, Webb said.
Board member Rodney Baker said he believes vaping is a major problem in county schools.
“We have tremendous problems with vaping, the dab pens, with the THC cartridges that are legally sold to adults that students are bringing into school that qualify under our law as narcotic, so it leads to severe punishment — just a tremendous number of resources that we are devoting to this,” Baker said.
Board President Steve Priestley agreed that vaping has become a significant issue in Lincoln County Schools. The school system has even installed monitors at various points throughout the schools to detect vape use.
“We’ve had multiple disciplinary issues related to this. We’ve certainly had our share of administrators and teachers having to deal with this, not to mention the impact on our students,” Priestley said.
Hamlin Town Recorder Daniel McKay said many of the students caught vaping in school face a $180 fine or community service.
“When they come before our judge, they have a choice of a $180 ticket or 40 hours of community service. Most of the parents opt for community service. We’ve done it like this over the years, but not to this extent. This massive influx has just been vapers. It’s been a major problem. This spring break week, we’ve had 14 kids a day coming to do their community service instead of paying for the tickets,” McKay said.