MAURY CO., Tenn. (WKRN) – Vaping has become one of the fastest growing problems among kids. Law enforcement agencies in Middle Tennessee are working to combat those numbers.
Maury County Sheriff’s Department has launched an operation to stop retailers from selling electronic cigarettes to underage children.
Captain Marcus Albright with the Maury County Sheriff’s Department said the SRO Program has teamed up with the Drug Unit to “eradicate” vaping devices in schools and to educate store owners and employees about Tennessee’s laws.
The department sent out a public information notice to store owners and clerks letting them know those units are ramping up enforcement in schools and also conducting undercover vaping buys in Maury County.
“Our partners with the Maury County Public Schools are on board and support our efforts as they will be the first to tell you these vaping devices are a large problem with our youth as the time spend dealing with these finds takes away from their education and learning processes,” said Captain Albright.
Capt. Albright told News 2 they have seen a “severe uptick” of vaping devices being used and sold in the Maury County School System. His SROs have confiscated more than 130 devices at high schools and middle schools this year. That’s compared to having 64 vaping device reports the prior school year, which he pointed out involved hybrid and remote learning.
“Challenges we face are the accessibility of such a variety of devices. Unlike the conventional cigarettes, there is an abundance of different flavors, and how easy it is to add THC (the primary substance in marijuana) to these devices,” said Capt. Albright. ” Our labs will not test misdemeanor amounts of these substances now thus making it harder to prosecute these finds.”
However, he said the biggest challenge by far is the laws currently in place addressing these issues.
In Tennessee, a person must be 21 and over to buy or possess tobacco and smoking hemp products including vapor devices. Also, any adult who is found to have contributed to the delinquency of a minor faces a Class A misdemeanor.
“Really, what’s a $10 to $50 dollar fine? This is all that store owners and their employees will face for selling one of these devices to a minor.” He explained, “These devices retail anywhere from $5 to $60 dollars and are sold daily to our youth. We’ve heard even some reports of price gouging to youth as some of these store owners know they will pay the inflated prices. Just imagine such a mark up to cover their measly little $50 dollar fine and they are out nothing! So long as it will continues to be profitable for store owners; they will continue selling to our youth without any considerations to the lasting effects.”
Captain Albright said he will update News 2 with results of the operation that are still ongoing.
Meanwhile, he said this is just the start of a larger effort to address the vaping problem.
“The SRO Program plays a much larger role in our schools then just being a law enforcement presence. They are dedicated to building those relationships with our MCPSs students and staff. Taking opportunities on leaving those we serve better than we found them is a daily expectation of our deputies,” said Capt. Albright.
The SRO Program is working with Maury County Public School partners to develop a preventative education and training that will start in the 2022/2023 school year to address vaping and other issues facing youth.
News 2’s Alex Denis brings you special reports “Kids and Vaping” on this dangerous trend with more insight on the health risks, and how law enforcement and schools are addressing the problem – all day Wednesday in every newscast and on WKRN.com.