Karly Green looked at the Newton City Commission and started talking about a problem she sees at Newton High School.
The sophomore, a member of STAND, started hearing about e-cigarettes in 2017 and was a little concerned. Then, she said, use of the devices "exploded."
"It was like everyone was Juuling," Green said. "(A Juul) carries the same amount (of nicotine) as 20 cigarettes in one pod."
Juul is an e-cigarette company. Green and student Savannah Hunsucker described rampant use of the devices — some bathrooms at school being renamed "Juul Rooms" or "Vape Rooms" by students, and students using the devices in class when teachers are not looking. Discipline for the use of the devices, which are not allowed on school property, was inconsistent last year — according to students.
STAND students claimed that e-cigarette usage has become an epidemic in Newton schools — citing a statistic that 29.27 percent of Newton High School seniors responding to the Communities That Care survey stated they had used an e-cigarette in the previous 30 days. That is an increase of 20 percent in one year.
According to STAND students, 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. They believe that the nicotine in e-cigarettes gets users hooked and nicotine is the main addictive compound in traditional cigarettes.
STAND president Eli Redington asked the commission Tuesday to consider a change to city codes raising the legal age for the purchase of tobacco products, including electronic smoking products, to 21.
That, he said, would help with what the group has seen on social media — underage buyers asking former students who are 19, 20 and 21 to buy for them.
"We want a T-21 ordinance, to not allow for the use of any nicotine products, so that would be (e-cigarette) paraphernalia or anything that could get you addicted to nicotine," Redington said. "Nicotine is what gets you addicted to tobacco. We want people to not have anything to do with tobacco until they are 21."
The junior-to-be is the countywide STAND president. He was joined by sophomores Hunsucker and Green, who are both Newton reps on the STAND board, and junior Mallory Seirer, who is part of the new Sources of Strength program at the high school.
Redington also asked the commission to consider opening up a teen drug court for those caught with e-cigarettes or tobacco products.
"This takes my breath away," said Kathy Valentine, mayor of Newton. "I think we need to look at this. ... I would support looking at an ordinance like that."
City attorney Chris Towle was asked to prepare a draft of an ordinance for the commission to review at its next meeting, July 23. Valentine asked the students to return to the city to help review an ordinance when it is drafted.
"I think positive peer pressure has a great effect, and you all have a great start on that with this," Valentine said. "I do not want to see that come to an end. I would support looking at an ordinance. ... This is sad, but I think there is hope if we can move forward with this and all the things you discussed need to be put in place."
STAND is asking for the city to make a move that has already been made by some private businesses. As of July 1, Walmart stores nationwide no longer sell nicotine products to anyone under the age of 21.
That was a move announced by the corporation in May. The store also placed the same restrictions on e-cigarettes and announced it will end "the sale of fruit- and dessert-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems," according to John Scudder, U.S. chief compliance and ethics officer for Walmart Inc.
Born from work of the public/private partnership in Harvey County to enhance drug prevention efforts, STAND is a group of high school students supported by Mirror Inc. who create educational efforts in the area of drug use prevention. The T21 request by STAND came out of an effort including Newton Medical Center, the City of Newton, the Health Department, Healthy Harvey Coalition, Harvey County D-FY, and STAND.