Students advocate against vaping

DEWITT — The seventh grade class at St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt is working to raise the tobacco age from 18 to 21.

The Camanche DeWitt Coalition took a bus of students from Clinton, Camanche and DeWitt to the Des Moines Capitol for Capitol Hill Day, Project Manager Lauren Schwandt said. The students met with local legislators to discuss issues that concerned them.

"We went to Day on the Hill at the Capitol representing the Coalition," St. Joe's seventh grade student Regina Klostermann said. "And we got talked to about drugs and how vaping and stuff is bad."

Student Brady Freeman said vaping can cause popcorn lungs, which can make it harder to breathe. It can also cause brain damage, making it harder to focus in class.

"If high schoolers use it, it can be harder for them to focus in class," Freeman said.

The students talked with representatives Mary Wolfe and Norlin Mommsen about vaping in schools. Senator Chris Cournoyer met with the seventh grade class at St. Joseph School last month.

"I sent her (Cournoyer) an email reminding her of what she said to the students when they were there," teacher Brenda McKone said. "Reminding her that she mentioned that if anyone was interested in writing a bill that she was more than willing to take our input or help with that. And within a week she was here meeting with the kids and getting their information."

Anyone who wants to purchase vaping equipment online can click a box saying they are over 18 and buy it. Students suggested that a new bill should require that equipment be delivered to the post office and that a buyer must show ID when picking it up.

Students also suggest raising the age from 18 to 21 because many high school seniors are of legal age to purchase vaping equipment. McKone said it's easy for the students to hide vapers because they look like flash drives. A number of vapers have oils in them that prevent them from smoking, so a student can vape in class and a teacher may not notice.

"School staff are seeing it," Schwandt said. "The SROs (School Resource Officers) are confiscating it from younger and younger, like intermediate to middle schoolers. So it's starting very young, and we know if these seniors are 18 they can easily get their hands on it and bring it into the schools or pass it down to individuals that are under 18. So we think raising [the age], it might be harder for them."