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'Brazen' use of e-cigs at District 156 leads to new ordinance

Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 9:55 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 10, 2014 11:46 a.m. CDT

McHENRY – Kids caught with e-cigarettes in McHenry will now face a fine.

The ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the McHenry City Council Monday evening, was put together after a request from District 156, Police Chief John Jones said.

The number of incidents involving electronic cigarettes and other alternative nicotine products has grown to a "pretty fair share" of school policy violations and some of the cases are "more brazen in their nature," McHenry West High School Assistant Principal Carl Valliantos said.

Because e-cigarettes are odorless and the vapor dissipates quickly, some students have taken to vaporizing in public, even during class, he said.

"When you're dealing with an issue where you have that much audacity, you have to do something," Superintendent Mike Roberts said, adding, "Challenging is a part of growing up, but there's limits to that as well."

The nature of e-cigarettes raises another significant concern for administrators, Valliantos said. Some schools have seen the devices filled with chemicals other that just nicotine.

That's why administrators are proposing an even stricter punishment for students caught with e-cigarettes, he said. The recommendation would need school board approval before it would take effect.

Under the current policy, which is in its second year, electronic cigarettes and their tobacco counterparts carry the same punishment, two days of in-school suspension or its alternative for a first violation.

The change being considered by administrators would make a first violation for electronic cigarettes the equivalent of a second violation for tobacco and cigarettes, which is three days of in-school suspension or its alternative, Valliantos said.

The newly approved city ordinance puts electronic cigarettes and tobacco products in the same camp, though the fines for minors caught having them have been increased to $50 from $25 for a first offense and to $75 from $50 for a second offense.

Subsequent offenses have been kept at $100. Violators can also be sentenced to community service in addition to or instead of the fine under the ordinance.

The ordinance also addresses those that provide electronic cigarettes to minors, assigning the same fine structure to electronic cigarettes as tobacco products.

A state statute that took effect Jan. 1 bans the sale of alternative nicotine products to minors, and Huntley and Woodstock have passed ordinances similar to McHenry's.

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