A Westport, CT, high school was evacuated on Tuesday, Dec. 9, after two students set off a smoke alarm. Such occurrences are common in high schools when students try to sneak a puff on a cigarette in a school bathroom, but the alarm at Staples High School didn’t stem from a typical tobacco cigarette.
The two male students were actually using an “e-cigarette” or electronic cigarette in a restroom outside the cafeteria and near the school gymnasium, according to Principal John Dodig.
The situation was made worse by the heavy rain and high winds that morning, which sent students and faculty out into the cold.
In a statement emailed to parents, Dodig said he almost had students take shelter at nearby Bedford Middle School. But when a fire official on the scene determined the source of the fire alarm, students and staff were able to re-enter the high school instead.
Dodig said the students have been identified and “there will be a severe price to pay for a poor decision.”
Dodig explained in the letter to parents that this was the first and only time the alarm at the high school had been set off due to student activity. The only other fire alarms that had sounded were due to repairs and maintenance done in the school.
Dodig called this “the worst-case scenario in that it was pouring rain [and] very cold.” Had the alarm’s source not been found sooner, he would have sent everyone to the nearby junior high.
While the smoke alarm may have been a first for students at Staples High School, e-cigarettes have been causing trouble for minors since they appeared on the market.
The devices are marketed as an alternative to cigarette smoking and currently offer hundreds of flavors — everything from tobacco and menthol to “fun” flavors like fruit, bubblegum, and coffee.
Those flavors may explain why teens want to try e-cigarettes and more advanced vaporizers, but they also spell trouble for small children, who may mistake the “e-liquid” used in the e cigs for candy.
Poison control centers all over the United States have received calls from parents whose kids got ahold of their e-cigs. In Washington state alone, two-thirds of the 154 calls about e-cigarette poisoning involved children, with 56 children requiring hospital treatment.
Because the liquid for e-cigarettes contains nicotine, tasting or even touching the liquid can be toxic to a child.
Washington and other states, such as Utah, are now fighting for childproof caps and clear labeling on e-liquid containers to warn parents and children of the substance’s danger.
Currently, 41 states and one territory have banned the sale of e-cigarettes and vaporizers to minors, with more likely to follow.
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