School E-cigarette Toolkit
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Why Schools Should Implement Alternatives to Suspension for Use and Possession of Commercial Tobacco Products
School policies regulating the use and possession of commercial tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, often contain punitive measures for student violations. Suspension and expulsion are sometimes used to enforce these policies. However, suspensions are counterproductive and harmful.1 Research shows students who receive one or more suspensions a year are more likely to experience mental health issues, use drugs and alcohol, and exhibit antisocial behavior.2,3,4,5
School years are critical for the physical, social and educational development needed for success both in school and in life. Research shows penalties like expulsion and suspension contribute to negative educational and life outcomes, undermining schools’ goals for supporting healthy student development.6,7,8,9
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued a report, “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.” That report finds that some of the harms from suspension and expulsion include a decreased likelihood to graduate on time, increased drop-out rate, and an increased likelihood of involvement with the criminal court system.10
The negative consequences of using expulsions and suspensions are not limited to the expelled or suspended student. High rates of school suspensions are associated with lower scores on standardized tests and overall academic achievement of the entire student body.10 The DOE recommends that “schools should… explicitly reserve the use of out- of-school [punishments] for the most egregious disciplinary infractions that threaten school safety,” such as bringing a firearm to school.10
Minnesota has some of the worst racial discipline disparities in the nation. This includes disparities by race and disability in the use of exclusionary discipline in schools.11,12,13,14 Using alternatives to suspension can improve student outcomes and reduce racial disparities in schools.
Using suspension and expulsion to penalize prohibited commercial tobacco use may not be reasonable considering tobacco targeted marketing, science of addiction, and long-term consequences associated with expulsion and suspension. School policies should attempt to address the underlying addiction to tobacco in lieu of punitive measures, which may exacerbate the problem and not deter future use. While schools have an interest in prohibiting behavior that is disruptive and harmful to health, schools may consider weighing the severity of the infraction with the consequences and effectiveness of the punishment. According to the CDC, the most effective approaches to helping youth quit tobacco use are through counseling and education.15 In general, non-exclusionary discipline has been shown to have positive effects.16,17,18
Overwhelming evidence shows from the 1950s to present, the tobacco industry intentionally and strategically studied and marketed tobacco products to people under the age of 21 in order to recruit “replacement smokers” to stay in business.19 Recently, for example, e-cigarette manufacturers and sellers advertised youth-appealing flavors like candy, advertised heavily on social media, and offered college scholarships.20 Once addicted, it may be incredibly difficult for youth to quit. This often explains why addicted students continue to use these products in school despite policies prohibiting their use and possession.
- Implementing My Life, My Quit™ as an Alternative to Suspension
- Addressing Student Commercial Tobacco Use in Minnesota Schools: Alternative Measures (Public Health Law Center). This document provides information and sample language for alternative penalties.
Incorporating the WSCC model for prevention
The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model is a framework that can be utilized to prevent and reduce e-cigarette use in schools. The model includes ten components of school health that interact to address a child’s physical, social, and emotional development. Addressing multiple components of the WSCC model will improve collaboration between school and community leaders to address the underlying reasons and improve student health and learning.
Need more help?
Contact the Minnesota Department of Education's School Climate Center: email@example.com.
- American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force. (2008). Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools?: An evidentiary review and recommendations. The American Psychologist, 63(9), 852-862.
- Dong, B., & Krohn, M. D. (2020). Sent home versus being arrested: The relative influence of school and police intervention on drug use. Justice Quarterly, 37(6), 985-1011.
- Bachman, J. G., Freedman-Doan, P., Messersmith, E. E., Schulenberg, J. E., O'Malley, P. M., & Johnston, L. D. (2008). The education-drug use connection: How successes and failures in school relate to adolescent smoking, drinking, drug use, and delinquency. Psychology Press.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health risk behaviors among adolescents who do and do not attend school—United States, 1992. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1994;43:129–132
- Cohen, D. R., Lewis, C., Eddy, C. L., Henry, L., Hodgson, C., Huang, F. L., ... & Herman, K. C. (2020). In-School and Out-of-School Suspension: Behavioral and Psychological Outcomes in a Predominately Black Sample of Middle School Students. School Psychology Review, 1-14.
- Lamont, J. H., Devore, C. D., Allison, M., Ancona, R., Barnett, S. E., Gunther, R., et al & Young, T. 2013). Out-of-school suspension and expulsion. Pediatrics, 131(3), e1000-e1007. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/131/3/e1000/30944/Out-of-School-Suspension-and-Expulsion?autologincheck=redirected.
- Noltemeyer, A. L., Ward, R. M., & Mcloughlin, C. (2015). Relationship between school suspension and student outcomes: A meta-analysis. School Psychology Review, 44(2), 224-240.
- Rosenbaum, J. (2020). Educational and criminal justice outcomes 12 years after school suspension. Youth & Society, 52(4), 515-547.
- Committee on School Health. (2003). Out-of-school suspension and expulsion. Pediatrics, 112(5), 1206-1209.
- U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Guiding Principles: A Resource for Improving School Climate and Discipline.
- Minnesota House of Representatives. (2019). Disparities based on race and disability status persist in school discipline. https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/SessionDaily/Story/13841
- Minnesota Department of Human Rights. (2018). Minnesota Department of Human Rights Finds Suspension and Expulsion Disparities in School Districts Across the State. https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/MNDHR/2018/03/02/file_attachments/967458/MDHR%2BSuspensions%2BDisparities%2BNews%2BRelease%2B3.2.18.pdf
- Green, E.L. (2018). Why Are Black Students Punished So Often? Minnesota Confronts a National Quandary. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/us/politics/school-discipline-disparities-white-black-students.html
- Minnesota Department of Education. Data Reports and Analytics. https://public.education.mn.gov/MDEAnalytics/DataTopic.jsp?TOPICID=133
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PHS Guideline Recommendations: How to Help Adolescents Quit Smoking.). https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking/cessation/pdfs/phs_adolescents_508.pdf
- Jones, E. P., Margolius, M., Rollock, M., Yan, C. T., Cole, M. L., & Zaff, J. F. (2018). Disciplined and Disconnected: How Students Experience Exclusionary Discipline in Minnesota and the Promise of Non-Exclusionary Alternatives. America's Promise Alliance.
- McNeill, K. F., Friedman, B. D., & Chavez, C. (2016). Keep them so you can teach them: Alternatives to exclusionary discipline. International Public Health Journal, 8(2), 169-181.
- Losen, D. J. (Ed.). (2014). Closing the school discipline gap: Equitable remedies for excessive exclusion. Teachers College Press. ( this is an entire book of evidence from different studies)
- Hsu G, Sun JY, Zhu SH. Evolution of Electronic Cigarette Brands from 2013-2014 to 2016-2017: Analysis of Brand Websites. J Med Internet Res. 2018 12;20(3):e80.
- Truth Initiative. (2021). E-Cigarettes: Facts, Stats, and Regulations. https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/emerging-tobacco-products/e-cigarettes-facts-stats-and-regulations