Mounting Concern Over Vaping | Parent Returns for Second Round With School Board

During a local Board of Education meeting last week, a parent of a 10th grader at SPHS voiced her concerns about vaping in schools. It marked the second straight month Gisella Benitez has raised the issue before school board members

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | Gisella Benitez, a parent of a student at South Pasadena High School, is urging the Board of Education to do more to stop vaping in schools while stating nationwide statistics to back her claims

Gisella Benitez agrees concerns about vaping starts with conversations between parents and teens starts at home.

“Wholeheartedly,” she told the South Pasadena Board of Education recently, “we need to talk to our kids.”

Benitez, who has a 10th grade student at South Pasadena High School and a 20-year-old who attended South Pasadena schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, also feels strongly it’s the school district’s duty to educate children about its effects “as early as middle school,” she said, “I would like to see some of the SPEF money appropriated to assemblies specifically on vaping.”

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SPEF, the South Pasadena Educational Foundation, is the fundraising arm for the local schools, raising more than $700,000 last year.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | David Lubs, Karen Reed, and Hanwul Choi; SPUSD Board of Education

“We need to get into these kids faces and shock them to let them know that vaping kills,” Benitez told the school board. “I know it’s happening. Kids talk. I know a girl got called into the [South Pasadena High School] office last week, so I know there’s a process, things being done. I just think there’s so much more to be done. They’re sneaky. This girl had the vaping apparatus in her bra. I know it’s hard to catch them, but we’ve got to do more. We can not have a death happen in our schools and we didn’t do anything about it.”

Deeply concerned about issue, Benitez cited recent statistics, including six recent reported deaths related to vaping in the country. “There are currently 450 cases nationwide of lung illnesses related to vaping,” she said to the 5-member panel before showing a map of all the states that currently have vaping-related illnesses. “Fifty-seven of them are in California.”

Further citing her concerns, Benitez read a statement on the issue released by the American Lung Association: “E-cigarettes are not safe and can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease. No one should use E-cigarettes.”

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | Board of Education Clerk, Michele Kipke

In August, Board of Education member Michele Kipke warned, “Vaping is a very serious problem and one that we should all be focused on. Manufacturers and sellers of e-cigarettes are aggressively targeting their marketing to middle and high schoolers. They are doing this by introducing flavors and packaging that will be appealing to adolescents.”

Other board members have shared similar concerns amid a growing controversy. On Friday, Walmart announced it will phase out the sales of electronic cigarettes in its store by releasing the following statement:

“Given the growing federal, state and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes, we plan to discontinue the sale of electronic nicotine delivery products.”

Since Benitez last spoke to the School Board, NBC News reports that eight people have now died from vaping-related illnesses. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there are now 530 confirmed or probable cases of the disease in 38 states.

Last week, the Trump administration announced plans to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but it’s uncertain when it will take effect. Bans have already been enacted in New York, San Francisco and Michigan.