GREENSBORO — As students left for the day and a quiet settled on most of the classrooms, one room at Gibsonville Elementary School started rockin’.
Inside was the school’s ukulele club: an elementary school ensemble that practices and performs hit music. Community performances this academic year have included playing at a Greensboro Swarm game, Guilford County Schools’ Evening of Excellence, and an appearance at Moore Music in Greensboro.
At a recent practice, nearly 30 students played and sang together, most strumming ukuleles, four-stringed Hawaiian instruments that belong to the guitar family. A handful of students took up positions at electric keyboards, a couple more beat drum sets, and one girl joined in on flute.
In the front of the room, music teacher Sandra Teglas sang into a hands-free microphone as she strummed out the chords to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift.
At the song’s midsection, students paused their playing to start drumming on their instruments, shouting along with Swift’s lyrics about brushing off her haters. They even danced a little.
Then it was back to playing and singing, barreling along to the song’s conclusion.
“Wow!” shouted one boy.
“Whooo! That felt good!” agreed Teglas.
Teglas said she restarted the school’s ukulele club when she started teaching at the school five years ago. The school already had music classroom ukuleles and she later got a grant for more.
The club, she said, is made possible by introducing students to ukulele in music class.
To participate in the club, students audition by playing a pentatonic scale (a musical scale with five notes per octave) and chord progressions for two songs, explained fifth grader Sophie Claire Cottle and fourth grader Greily Orellana.
Sophie Claire recently took on the flute after Teglas obtained a durable, plastic one for her classroom.
“She’s been teaching me it,” she said. “Now I can do, almost, ‘Wagon Wheel,’ and I can do ‘Shake It Off’ and I want to work on ‘Girls Like You’ too.”
Another student has been trying out the saxophone with the group after Teglas obtained a beginner version of the instrument.
Fourth grader Case Sockwell said Teglas is “the best” and fellow fourth grader Lamarco Dawson called her “amazing.”
“She helps us when we need help. She’s kind,” Case said.
“And she doesn’t yell at us,” Lamarco interjected. “She gives us warnings.”
“And a lot of compliments,” Case said.
Teglas said the extra work of running the club is worth it to see the students increase their musicianship and learn to work together, older students helping younger students.
They also have fun.
In December, with recent concerts complete, the group got a chance to try out new music, such as a clean version (no curse words) of singer and rapper Lizzo’s current mega-hit “Truth Hurts.”
After picking their way through the song during the club, students just couldn’t get enough. They were still singing about being “100% that kid” as they waited outside for their rides home.
In the middle of the 20th century, Susie Sharp was a woman of firsts.
Sharp, who grew up in Reidsville, became the first woman appointed as a Superior Court judge in North Carolina and, later, the first woman to serve on the state Supreme Court.
She was also the first woman to become chief justice when she took her oath of office 45 years ago on Jan. 2, 1975, according to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
But she rejected the notion of feminism, according to historians and newspapers that reported on her.
“I think women have something unique to offer simply because they are women, though I think this women’s angle has been greatly overemphasized,” she said in 1981, according to an article published in the Greensboro News & Record.
Sharp died at age 88 on March 1, 1996.
The “trail-blazing judge,” as the New York Times described her at the time of her death, received 74% of the popular vote “to become the first woman Chief Justice in the nation to be popularly elected,” according to the N.C. DNCR.
Sharp led North Carolina’s highest court until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72 in 1979, the Times reported.
“I broke the ice,” she said the year she retired, according to the News & Record. “I hope I made it a little easier for women who want to be lawyers and judges. But no one else can have the fun, the pleasure and the shock of being first.”
As a vocal opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, she was something of an oxymoron.
The ERA, which prohibited gender discrimination, was passed by Congress in 1972 as the 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the Encyclopedia of North Carolina.
It then went to the states for ratification, where it met resistance “from conservative women who feared that civil society would fall into chaos if the amendment passed,” the encyclopedia entry reads.
U.S. Democratic Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr. of North Carolina was among those who opposed it, and Sharp — “a highly respected Democrat” — publicly backed him, according to the encyclopedia.
“The trouble comes when a woman tries to be too many things at one time: a wife, a mother, a career woman, a femme fatale. … A woman has to draw up a blueprint,” Sharp said, according to the North Carolina History Project. “She has got to budget her life.”
Today, 38 states have ratified the ERA. North Carolina is not one of them.
Sharp went to law school at UNC, where she was reportedly the only woman in a class of 60 men.
Then-Gov. Kerr Scott appointed her to the Superior Court in 1949.
But Sharp faced scrutiny from those who thought the appointment “inappropriate” — including one reporter who suggested it would be wrong for her to preside over a rape trial, the News & Record reported.
“There could never have been a rape in the first instance without a woman present,” Sharp said, according to the newspaper. “And I think it would be eminently fitting that a woman should preside at the payoff.”
In another instance, an attorney told her courtroom, “Gentlemen of the jury, the presence of sweet womanhood in this courtroom today rarefies the atmosphere,” according to the N.C. DNCR.
She also discovered during her tenure that the judge’s bathroom in Morganton “had only a sink and a urinal.”
Sharp — who once said “you can’t serve two masters and serve them well,” according to the News & Record — never married.
Despite her rejection of feminist ideals, feminists “championed” Sharp, the News & Record reported. Many hoped she might one day be appointed to the appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court.
TIME Magazine named Sharp one of its women of the year after she became chief justice in 1975.
At the time, only 7% of U.S. lawyers were women, TIME reported.
But Sharp maintained being a woman had little to do with it.
“You know it takes both a man and a woman to make a good home,” she said, the News & Record reported. “And by the same token, it takes both a man and a woman in this time to make adequate government.”
When Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, an era of federal deregulation was projected for many industry sectors, particularly tobacco.
The Trump administration’s Food and Drug Administration was expected to shift into lower gear, if not halt, its already slow-walking of asserting the regulatory authority given to it by a Democratic Congress in the 2009 Tobacco Control Act.
Instead, in a stunning 13-day turn of events, the FDA accomplished two once-improbable goals sought by public-health and anti-tobacco advocacy groups:
The FDA also determined that makers of nicotine liquids are manufacturers, and thus required to submit a premarket application by a federal court-mandated May 12 deadline in order to be included in a 12-month FDA review process.
The premarket standard requires the FDA to consider products’ existing risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and non-users, particularly as it compares with traditional cigarettes.
If e-liquid manufacturers don’t apply, their products would be deemed as illegal to sell. However, being in the process allows their product to stay in the marketplace.
Analysts, industry officials and advocates have said for years it could cost millions of dollars for each product to go through the premarket regulatory pipeline.
The FDA, meanwhile, has estimated it would cost about $500,000 per product. FDA officials said Thursday they would offer application assistance to small manufacturers of vaping liquids.
For a Trump administration trying to revive so-called “clean coal,” lower automobile emission standards and rescind, if not eliminate, Affordable Care Act health regulations, the willingness to expand tobacco restrictions appears out of character.
But analysts say the national outcry, or some would say histrionics, over the vaping crisis in 2019 may have forced Trump and the FDA’s hands with the public. In September, Moses Cone Hospital confirmed its first death linked to vaping.
The FDA was given the authority in June 2009 to: remove ingredients considered as hazardous; restrict the marketing and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco; focus on limiting the impact of advertising on youth; expand warning labels; and stop the use of such characterizations as “light” or “low tar.”
At that time, e-cigarettes were in their infancy, mostly made in China with little popularity with smokers.
The FDA’s dilemma has been that there are no safe-for-consumers tobacco products, even with the potential for reduced risk with e-cigarettes and snus, a smokeless, moist powder tobacco pouch placed under the lip.
The risk with an FDA “seal of approval” for tobacco products is that it would be perceived as a symbol that they are appropriate to consume, rather than just less harmful than traditional-cigarette products that contribute annually to more than 400,000 premature deaths in the U.S. alone.
There have been only four tobacco products to have gained a form of FDA authorization: iQOS heat-not-burn traditional cigarette by Philip Morris USA; the very-low-nicotine traditional cigarettes Moonlight and Moonlight Menthol by 22nd Century Group Inc.; and the General Snus style of Swedish Match.
They all carry the caveat that it does not mean “these products are safe or FDA approved.”
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said in July 2018 that its heat-not-burn traditional cigarette, Eclipse and Eclipse Menthol, had received market authorization from the FDA. Reynolds has not announced a test market for the Eclipse styles after initially projecting it would begin such an effort by July 2019.
Thom Golab, president of the American Council of Science and Health, a health-care think tank, said the FDA’s challenge remains “finding a balance on tobacco and public health to eliminate as much exposure to underage users as possible, while also expanding the potential for electronic cigarettes to be a public-health benefit for those trying to stop smoking.”
“Flavors are necessary for enticing people to buy your product, whether it’s candy, soft drinks, fast food or tobacco.”
That’s why Golab said he is hopeful the FDA will accelerate its review process of innovative tobacco products, particularly the premarket application process, so that flavored e-cigarettes can be returned to retail outlets if determined to have an overall public-health benefit.
When the Tobacco Control Act was enacted in June 2009, the FDA provided a guideline for implementing new restrictions expected to be fully in place by 2012.
For example, traditional cigarette flavorings outside menthol were to be banned by September 2009 — not a major task given most manufacturers already had abandoned candy and fruit flavors.
The law required FDA premarket approval for new products, those introduced after Feb. 15, 2007. There was an exemption for new products if they were substantially equivalent health-wise to existing products.
Camel Snus, the top-selling snus in the U.S., was introduced by Reynolds before February 2007, and there were similar snus products in existence as well.
Litigation from U.S. tobacco manufacturers successfully bogged down some of the FDA’s roll-out initiatives.
One example is the FDA’s efforts to put new graphic warnings labels still have not reached cigarette packaging.
The FDA said in August 2019 that it has released a new set of 13 graphic warning labels for traditional cigarettes that are toned down considerably from its first attempt in 2012. They include images of diseased lungs, a man with surgical stitches from heart or lung surgery and a child with an oxygen mask.
The warnings have been mandated by a federal judge to be in place by March 2020 for cigarette packaging and marketing. The ruling does not affect other tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes.
By July 2021, the labels would be required to cover the top 50% of the front and rear panels of cigarette packages, as well as at least 20% of the top of cigarette advertisements.
“The FDA needs to stop focusing on the flavorings and for once, focus on the nicotine, which is the problem,” said Michael Siegel, a professor in the Boston University School of Public Health.
“The epidemic we have is not one of youth flavor use, but of youth addiction to the Juul device ... because Juul has more than 50 milligrams/milliliters of nicotine salts.”
“If policy makers were interested in protecting the health of Americans, the first thing they would do is to get the nicotine out of combustible cigarettes and restrict their sale to tobacco shops that are only open to adults.
“The second thing they would do is limit the level of nicotine salts in electronic cigarettes, especially Juul.”
In May of 2017, four months after the Trump administration took office, it chose to give federal health officials more time to evaluate Obama administration-era guidelines on e-cigarettes, vaporizers and other innovative nicotine and tobacco products.
As a result, rules that were supposed to go into effect were put on hold, supposedly for just three months.
Those guidelines include: manufacturer submission of cigar warning label plans; registration and listing; ingredient listing; health documents; substantial equivalence exemption requests; substantial equivalence applications; premarket tobacco product applications; and harmful and potentially harmful constituent reports.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent a letter to the FDA commissioner warning that a Republican-controlled Congress and White House would take aim at the August 2016 regulations.
Johnson said part of his motivation is that the costs of adhering to the new regulations “are so needlessly high that the very existence of the vapor products industry is being threatened.”
For example, a bill sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., would require that e-cigs no longer be classified as tobacco products.
Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said the fact that President Trump “is also a teetotaler who has never drank or smoked” likely influenced his decision in September to support a more extensive banning of flavored tobacco products.
“The only voices President Trump was hearing from the morning he announced the ban were pro-ban advocates like HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Kellyanne Conway,” Conley said.
David Sweanor, an adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa and the author of several e-cig studies, said that “since the time of initial regulation of nicotine-replacement therapy products, there has been the seemingly absurd position that the least hazardous nicotine products are subject to the greatest regulatory constraints.”
Some studies, including one by the Royal College of Physicians, have claimed e-cigs and vaporizers are up to 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The Royal College’s study on traditional cigarettes played a key role in the landmark 1964 surgeon general’s determination.
“The public positioning on vaping has been overwhelming focused on risks rather than benefits,” Sweanor said.
“To the extent that the use of a low-risk form of nicotine is now widely seen as a bigger problem than the 500,000 annual U.S. deaths from cigarette smoking.
“Fears often outweigh facts, and politicians are responding to the public mood,” Sweanor said.