BERKLEY, Mich. (WXYZ) — Dennis McDavid has seen an alarming trend in his seven years as superintendent of Berkley schools – more students vaping.
“When we would talk to them about vaping, some of things they’d say is, 'Well, it’s not against the law and what’s the big deal?' And so we viewed this as very much an education issue," McDavid said.
He decided to go to Berkley's City Council with his concerns.
Last Monday, the council voted unanimously to make it a civil infraction for anyone under 18 to use vaping products like e-cigarettes.
Previously, minors vaping has been a gray area for law enforcement. Vaping products, most containing nicotine and potentially cancer causing chemicals, haven't been strictly prohibited to minors the way traditional tobacco products are.
Lt. Detective Andrew Hadfield with Berkley Public Safety works closely with the schools. The lack of clarity in the law, he said, made going after minors who were vaping a difficult task.
“We had lots of problems with vaping in schools or parents that were catching their kids with vale products and there was nothing we could do about it," he said.
Lt. Hadfield said the youngest user he witnessed was just a fifth grader, who got into vaping products through an older sibling.
This new measure, which will take effect in mid-April, now gives Hadfield and other officers the right to take action when they see minors vaping.
Anyone under the age of 18 caught vaping can face a $100 fine or community service. Ultimately, a judge will decide.
Councilman Jack Blanchard said the goal of this measure, which is really an amendment to an existing ordinance, is to make tobacco laws consistent when it comes to minor usage.
The hope, Blanchard said, is that potential consequences for young people will deter a dangerous habit.
The ordinance also extends to vape shops – selling to minors is a misdemeanor criminal offense. Federal law also prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
“While smoking sort of, you know tastes gross, you can have bubble gum, strawberry any kind of fruit with these new nicotine products, but you’re still taking that dangerous substance into your body," said City Manager Matt Baumgarten.
The FDA and the FTC have taken action against more than a dozen companies for marketing vape products to minors.
In November of last year, the FDA issued a warning letter to vaping company Electric Lotus LLC for selling e-liquids and e-cigarettes that “resemble kid friendly food products, such as cereal, candy, and peanut butter and jelly.”
Berkley is mirroring Royal Oak; the school district there also asked City Council to prohibit youth vaping with a civil ordinance. Farmington has a similar measure in place.