A Parent's Guide to School Safety Toolkit

3.9 Tobacco, E-Cigarettes, and Marijuana

Male student smoking a cigarette outside

Research has shown that tobacco can be a gateway drug for youth, increasing the risk for later use of illicit drugs. Substance use affects young people differently than it does adults. Research shows that brain development continues until a person’s mid-20s. The last part of the brain to fully develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive function and self-regulation skills including impulse control, decision-making, problem-solving, and planning. Tobacco use, especially during the formative years of brain development, can lead to vulnerability for developing substance use disorders and permanent changes within the brain’s chemistry.

Student vaping against a brick wall

In recent years, e-cigarettes (vaping) have become more prevalent and popular, especially with young people. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General declared youth e-cigarette use an epidemic and a cause for great concern. E-cigarettes are electronic devices that have been designed to look like regular cigarettes or commonplace youth-friendly items such as USB flash drives, pens, highlighters, lipstick, or other cosmetics. Liquid nicotine and other harmful chemicals are heated in the device, producing toxic aerosols which are then inhaled like traditional tobacco cigarettes.

Vaping products have been marketed as being safer than cigarettes and have been marketed towards young people, offering fun flavorings, colors, and designs. Tobacco products including vapes are not safe for anyone, especially youth, young adults, and pregnant women. Ingredients in e-cigarettes not only include nicotine, but can also contain heavy metals such as lead, cancer-causing chemicals, and flavorings which have been linked to lung disease. Bystanders to the secondhand aerosol, which is exhaled by the user, are also inhaling toxic chemicals.

In an effort to reduce easy access for school-aged youth, the Texas Legislature responded by raising the age for retailers to sell to and minors to purchase, possess, and consume all tobacco products from 18 to 21. Just like cigarettes and other tobacco products, e-cigarettes are prohibited from being used or possessed on school property and at school-related or school-sanctioned activities. Check with your School Health Advisory Council to see which tobacco and vaping prevention curriculum is being implemented in your child’s school.

There are new consequences for the possession, use, or delivery of marijuana or e-cigarettes on or near a public school property or at certain school events. Consequences may include class removal and being placed in a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) or being expelled from school.

What Should My Child Know?

It is important that children and adolescents know about the dangers of tobacco products and vaping. Although vaping products are marketed as safer and less addicting than other tobacco products, the reality is vaping is not safe, and it is addicting. Not only is it against the law for your child to purchase, possess, or use tobacco or e-cigarettes, it is also against school policy to use these products at school and school-related or school-sponsored events. This includes school transportation.

When having these conversations, remember that the goal is to have an open dialogue, rather than a lecture, and it is best to have these conversations on a regular basis rather than once.

Talk about your expectations for them, that the best way to avoid using tobacco products is to never start, and that they are more vulnerable to addiction to substances, including nicotine because of their developing brain.

If you or your child use tobacco or e-cigarettes, know that it is never too late to quit. There are adult and youth cessation programs and services. Information on youth cessation services is in the resource section below.