Police thankful for new rules that keep vaping devices away from kids / minors
As more communities in Wisconsin ban minors from having vaping devices, police departments have had to decide how to enforce the new rules.
As of Jan. 1, Kimberly and Little Chute became the latest communities in the state to make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to possess electronic vaping devices.
Neenah was one of the first communities in northeast Wisconsin to enact such a ban, passing an ordinance in September. Stevens Point passed a similar ordinance in December.
While state law already prohibits minors from having tobacco or nicotine products, it's not always immediately apparent when vaping devices contain nicotine and when they don't. That left police officers in a difficult position, said Neenah police officer Stu Zuehls.
Before Neenah's ban was in place, Zuehls said police officers had no way of knowing which devices contained nicotine or other products illegal for minors.
"All of those were right under our noses," he said. "They might say there’s no nicotine in there, but we don’t know for sure."
Police in Neenah have issued at least 15 summonses since the ordinance was passed, Zuehls said. Officers have taken an approach similar to how other tobacco- or nicotine-related bans are enforced.
“We don’t necessarily go and search kids looking for that," he said. "We have to have a reason for it.”
But if minor is involved in a disturbance or has other contact with police, Zuehls said, officers could search the youth and take any vaping devices they find.
The increasing popularity of such bans is likely a result of schools having so many issues with the devices, Zuehls said.
“I think they’re overwhelmed and the teachers are frustrated," he said.
Michael Lambie, a police officer with the Fox Valley Metro Police Department, which handles Kimberly and Little Chute, said his department would also enforce the new ban in a similar way to existing laws related to smoking.
In mid-December, the U.S. Surgeon General urged local communities to put more restrictions on vaping devices, including taxes and indoor vaping bans, to deter minors from using them.
That warning played in a role in the decisions by Kimberly and Little Chute to pass their ordinances, Lambie said in a news release.
“We want our children to be safe and not consuming anything that’s going to harm them,” he said in an interview.
The fine for minors caught for the first time with an electronic vaping device in those communities is $92.50, Lambie said.
“I think you’re going to see more communities adopting ordinances like this,” he said.