Texas vaping at school: Parents, experts divided on HB114, punishment lumping students with those committing more serious offenses

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) —As the school year comes to a close in Texas, 13 Investigates is re-examining HB114, a controversial law that went into effect this year and aims to curb e-cigarette use among students.

Over the year, ABC13 heard from parents and experts both praising and opposing the law, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Brazoria County, that requires mandatory placement in an alternative school for any student caught in possession of an e-cigarette.

“We wanted to have the ability to put some teeth into the fact that this is a serious situation. We felt like it was important the school districts had the ability to get kids’ attention,” Thompson told ABC13 in a sit-down interview.

More than 2.1 million students across the country reported using e-cigarettes in 2023, according to a survey study from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The study showed a rise in use among middle school students.

In Texas, ABC13 has reported e-cigarette use among elementary school students, with leading experts in the field explaining the severity of the trend.

SEE MORE: 13 Investigates: Texas senator urges HISD track vaping incidents

“It’s a pernicious problem. The foremost harm of e-cigarettes is the addiction process. Kids smoke them, they get addicted, and it stays for life,” Dr. Steven Kelder of UTHealth said.

The new Texas law that went into effect Sept. 1 adds possession of an e-cigarette to Section 37 of the Texas Education Code. That section details some of the most serious offenses a student can commit and requires removal from school. The felony offenses include bringing a gun to school, making terroristic threats, and violent assault.

Celeste Milligan, a Houston Independent School District parent of two and co-chair of the district advisory committee, said the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

“Sending kids to a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) school for a first-time vaping offense is ineffective, cruel, and harmful. Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised when our kids are using something that’s been marketed to them. And instead of punishing them, at least initially, what we should be doing is trying to help them and educate them,” Milligan said.

How many students have been caught at the Houston area’s largest school districts? 13 Investigates digs into the numbers and how the districts have taken on HB114, tonight on Eyewitness News at 10 p.m. on ABC13.

For updates on this story, follow Jonathan Bruce on Facebook, X and Instagram.

SEE ALSO: HISD looks to get around new state vaping law under its new designation as ‘District of Innovation’

As a “District of Innovation,” Houston ISD can get around certain state laws, and it’s trying to do just that with one that deals with vaping.

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