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ACSD joins lawsuit targeting e-cigarettes

Students … will be having symptoms of feeling really anxious — shaky, jittery, almost like they’re having a panic attack; and some of them had recently been using an electronic vaping device.
— MUHS Nurse Kelly Landwehr

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District board has signed on to a class action lawsuit that seeks to recover damages from vaping device maker Juul “regarding the presence at unacceptable detection limits of the chemicals” in the company’s e-cigarettes. The board recently signed a contract with the law firms of Frazer PLC; Maley and Maley PLLC; and Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky P.C.
The ACSD is only one of many school districts throughout the country to sign onto the lawsuit, which has no guarantee of yielding a financial windfall for the plaintiffs. But board members on Nov. 25 unanimously agreed there was nothing to lose in joining the legal action. Participating districts won’t be on the hook for legal fees if the lawsuit fails. That said, the lawyers will be owed a total contingency fee of 33% of any settlement, with the plaintiffs divvying up the balance, according to the agreement.
“I thought it was a good idea, given the impact of (e-cigarette use among students) and the insidious nature of it,” Superintendent Peter Burrows told the board, adding the ACSD’s participation allows it to “make a statement” on the dangers of vaping.
E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales. The liquid usually has nicotine and flavoring in it, and other additives, according to information gleaned from the U.S. Surgeon General’s website. The nicotine in e-cigarettes is addictive. Besides nicotine, the Surgeon General states e-cigarettes can include such potentially harmful ingredients as:
• Flavorings like diacetyl, a chemical linked to lung disease.
• Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs.
• Volatile organic compounds.
• Heavy metals, such as zinc, lead, nickel and tin.
Earlier this fall e-cigarettes were blamed for a spate across the nation of injuries that led in some cases for states to temporarily ban sale of the devices.
Juul’s namesake e-cigarette has become one of the more popular vaping devices, in part because it’s compact and easy to hide. A Juul e-cigarette cartridge (also known as a “pod”) gives the smoker around 200 puffs and transmits about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reported 2,291 cases of people having been hospitalized nationwide for lung injuries stemming from e-cigarette use as of Dec. 3. The CDC reports — also as of Dec. 3 — a combined total of 48 deaths in 25 states and the district of Columbia associated with vaping.
The Independent last December published an extensive article about e-cigarette use in Addison County.
Contacted on Thursday, Middlebury Union High School Registered Nurse Kelly Landwehr said she believes vaping among MUHS students has declined slightly since last year, based on what she’s seen and from anecdotal feedback she’s received from Middlebury School Resource Officer Connor Sousa, a police officer stationed in the schools.
Landwehr hasn’t seen any students needing medical attention for acute respiratory ailments associated with vaping. But she’s noted other disturbing symptoms.
“One thing I have seen, in a handful of cases, is students come in and they’ll be having symptoms of feeling really anxious — shaky, jittery, almost like they’re having a panic attack,” she said. “And some of them had recently been using an electronic vaping device. We definitely have students using (e-cigarettes), students getting caught with them in a variety of places, with disciplinary action for that.”
School officials continue to educate students about the dangers of vaping and tobacco use. Cautionary informational flyers can be found throughout the school building.
In addition, MUHS has put together a team to speak with students in class about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other harmful substances. That team includes Landwehr, prevention Specialist Brooke Jette, Sousa and various health and physical education teachers.
Jette and Landwehr next month will meet with the Vermont Department of Health’s Alan Saltis and Jesse Brooks of the United Way of Addison County, to discuss different ways of getting the anti-vaping message across to students. One of the potential options is peer-led groups, which have been successful in other school districts, Landwehr noted.
The e-cigarettes message is getting through to some students, but not to others.
“Some students, when I talk with them here in my office and I know they’ve been vaping, are very alarmed by it,” Landwehr said. “Others aren’t worried about it. Those are the kids I really worry about.“
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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