JANESVILLE — Tobacco 21 was top on the list for discussion when the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School Board and the Janesville City Council held a joint meeting late last month.
This Sept. 30 meeting took place in the media center of JWP and is a meeting the two boards try to hold twice a year.
The boards discussed numerous topics with two main discussions surrounding the Tobacco 21 initiative and the school resource officer position.
Kelly McIntee with the American Lung Association in Mankato, along with Dr. Katie Smentek, Pediatrician with Mankato Clinic, spoke to the two boards about Tobacco 21.
“Something that we can’t ignore is the youth tobacco rates, specifically vaping,” McIntee said.
Tobacco 21 changes the legal purchasing age of tobacco from 18 to 21 years old, but still allows 18 year olds to use the products.
More than 485 cities and counties in 29 states have adopted Tobacco 21 with Waseca being one of them to adopt the policy.
McIntee shared some statistics with the boards to show how tobacco and youth rates have become an epidemic.
According to the presentation that McIntee gave tobacco use in youth has gone up 7% since 2014 with more studies being done. She also shared that more high schoolers are e-cigarette users with 1% of girls and 2% of boys using e-cigarettes in 2011 to 19% of girls and 23% of boys using e-cigarettes in 2018.
McIntee continued to share that traditional tobacco rates have gone down but e-cigarette use has skyrocketed with the Minnesota Young Adult Survey showing that three out of four adults who are using vaping products have never used traditional tobacco products before.
“It’s very alarming the products that are out there available,” McIntee said.
There are also a wide variety of flavors available for vaping like mint, candy, fruit or even chocolate flavors.
“Part of our role is creating awareness and policy changes to limit youth from reaching these products,” McIntee said. “We are really fighting an uphill battle with the e-cig usage.”
McIntee shared that 75 percent of adults favor increasing the minimum sale age to 21.
“I think all that we really are doing is pushing out 18 to 21 year olds to towns around us,” Janesville City Councilor Ron Cummins said. “They go to Eagle Lake for whatever they’re going for…with Tobacco 21 we’re chasing them out of town. I agree with what you have to say…I’m a smoker, I hate it, but at 18 you can still walk down the street and vape but you can’t purchase them…”
McIntee shared that Tobacco 21 isn’t the perfect solution but there are studies to show that people won’t go out of their way to get the products, especially if they haven’t started yet. Tobacco 21 is about removing access from that 18 year old to try to keep tobacco products out of high schools and being around youth.
“If we don’t make a move to support this we look like we are condoning it,” Janesville City Councilor Russ Wiebold said.
“I thank you for that presentation. It was really enlightening,” School Board Chair Kelly Heitkamp said. “The stuff you don’t realize and I didn’t realize the ingredients in the products and you hear it on the radio and you see it as a way to quit and you hear it on the news and it is an epidemic…as a board member it would be naive to say that no one in our school district is doing it. It is in every community and we are trying to help it and educate we have a school resource officer and I think Steve does a very good job there and our admin and that being said we need to do anything that we can to stop the epidemic…”
“I feel this should be a State issue, not just a small community level,” Cummins said.
McIntee said that it got pretty far in the Legislature last year and that hopefully it will go through in the next year.
There was no action taken on the Tobacco 21 policy, this was an informational presentation.
Following the Tobacco 21 policy presentation the joint board discussed the JWP school resource officer position (SRO) that was reinstated in the fall of 2018.
School resource officer
Steve Johnson was chosen for the school resource officer position at JWP that is a two year contract from the fall of 2018 school year through the spring of the 2020 school year.
“Last year and this year, I hear good things from the kids and I know you’re doing a good job and you’re becoming more involved in the school district, which I think is needed in this day and age, but a beneficial asset to the school,” Heitkamp said.
Johnson has been a member of the Janesville Police Department for 17 years, a Taser instructor, an S.W.A.T. team member and a Drug Recognition Expert prior to accepting the position of SRO. Johnson has also worked with kids in after-school programs and through coaching/refereeing Little League in Minneapolis.
During the meeting Johnson gave an update of his position at the school and how it has been going with the students.
He follows guidelines from the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). NASRO is a non-profit organization with guidelines for the public and for educational purposes. It is used to teach kids on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, criminal activity, good citizenship and community responsibility.
Along with NASRO guidelines Johnson is in charge of checking doors are locked when they are supposed to be, connecting with students, working on the school safety plan and many other things that have to do with the school safety.
One of the newer things that Johnson has been working with the school district to implement is the ALICE system, alert, lock down, inform, counter and evacuate.
This is a protocol that is used when there is an intruder in the school but it can also be used when there is a medical emergency.
After hearing the update the two boards gave a collective head nod that they would be interested in keeping the SRO position in JWP.