Alpena schools may join vaping lawsuit

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Alpena High School Principal Tom Berriman on Wednesday holds up a bag of vaping liquid, among other vaping products, that school employees have confiscated from students at the high school. He said “it’s just a fraction” of the vaping products the school has confiscated from students since he became principal.

ALPENA — Alpena High School Principal Tom Berriman reached into a repurposed business envelope box on Wednesday and pulled out a plastic bag filled with vaping pens, liquids, and chargers his staff have confiscated from students in the past couple of years.

The contents of the repurposed box, along with the contents of two gallon-sized plastic bags also confiscated from students, tell the story of how products designed by electronic cigarette companies have evolved over the years and, some say, are specifically marketed to students.

Berriman first showed a large vaping pod that was once used by students and then compares it to the sleek, thin vaping pods school employees now see that look like a USB flash drive and are easily concealable.

Berriman said vaping companies have cleverly designed vaping products to be hard for teachers to detect, as many of them look like flash drives, ink pens, and triangular shaped highlighters. He said the vaping liquid flavors — strawberry apple watermelon, cotton candy, and blue slushie — specifically target kids.

Each time high school employees confiscate vaping liquids, the district has to pay for a kit the Alpena Police Department uses to test those liquids for THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. Berriman said it costs $10 per kit. So, if a student brings three or four different liquids to school, it costs $30 to $40 to test those liquids.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Alpena High School Principal Tom Berriman on Wednesday holds up a vaping device by Juul Labs Inc. Berriman said the device looks like a USB flash drive and is designed to be easily concealed.

The school district could recoup some of those funds, including future costs, if it joins a class-action lawsuit against Juul Labs Inc., the California-based company that accounts for about 75% of the e-cigarettes sold in the U.S., according to drugwatch.com.

Alpena Superintendent David Rabbideau on Wednesday told his school board’s Executive Committee the district was eligible to join the class- action lawsuit based out of California.

He said Thrun Law Firm, which represents APS and other school districts throughout the state, had offered all Michigan school districts the opportunity to join the lawsuit.

“We’re not likely to benefit from this any time soon, but they (Thrun) were asking if districts are interested in signing up for it,” he said, noting damages would be any costs that were spent on vape prevention and for any future expenses.

Rabbideau said vaping is an issue that consumes a lot of staff time and recommended the full board consider a resolution to join the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Berriman said educating his employees about what vaping devices students use and about state laws prohibiting those younger than 18 from vaping or possessing vaping products, has “significantly” reduced the number of vaping devices being confiscated.

He said students who are caught vaping in school or who bring vaping devices to school typically receive a one-day, out-of-school suspension, have to watch an educational video with School Resource Officer Tim Marquardt, and receive a citation from Marquardt.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.


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