Recently, the community has experienced a rise in the popularity of vaping. Why are students attracted to this potentially dangerous trend?
December 8, 2017
Vaping spreads among students
Sophomore Rebecca Carter checks the bathroom stalls one by one. Relieved to find they’re all empty, she quickly steps into one, locking the door behind her. She pulls her vape out of her skirt pocket and puts it to her lips, slowly inhaling the vapor. Once she is satisfied, Carter heads back to class.
Carter, a pseudonym used to protect this student’s identity, is just one of a number of students who regularly vapes in school. A Patriot survey in which 285 students responded found that, overall, 35 percent of students have vaped before, and 18 percent have vaped in school.
Of that 35 percent of students who have vaped, a little over half have vaped in school, while 21 percent vape in school daily.
While some advocates of vaping say that it can help people to stop smoking, only seven percent of students report using it for this purpose. Carter cites vaping as a source of amusement, as well as the source of an occasional buzz, as does over half of the student body. “[I vape] every day – almost every mod,” Carter said. “Personally, I vape because I get bored in school.”
“My first vapes didn’t give me a buzz because they didn’t have very much nicotine in them. They actually had almost none,” Carter said. “I would just do it for the tricks, and I thought it was funny.” Eventually, Carter moved on to a vibe, a type of vape with significantly higher nicotine content.
According to the survey, some students cite that they receive a buzz from vaping, with over one-fourth saying they use the activity as a form of stress relief. Additionally, over half say they vape to have fun. However, others state that they originally wanted to learn why vaping suddenly became popular. In the words of one survey respondent, he or she first vaped “to see why everyone else did it.”
Despite this, not all students believe the hype. “I did it once and realized exactly how stupid the whole thing was,” another student said.
Several students have faced disciplinary action after being caught vaping in school. “We treat it as smoking, it’s a one-demerit offense,” Dean of Students and Technology Brian Powell said. “We plan on addressing it, maybe increasing the penalty, and kids who are caught must take a [tobacco-treatment] class.”
This free course, run by the Harford County Health Department Public Health Education unit, teaches smokers and tobacco users how to quit and explains why individuals get hooked on tobacco products. One student is currently enrolled.
For Carter, however, the threat of being punished doesn’t make her any more cautious about vaping in school. “I’m not stupid about it,” Carter said. “If I’m going to school, of course I’m gonna vape.”
Still, one anonymous student disagrees with this statement. “If you bring it to school, you’re going to get caught, one way or another.”
The fear of being caught may not be a deterrent, however, as 68 percent of students who do not vape have seen vaping in school, and 19 percent see vaping in school on a daily basis.
Freshman Gianna Ishak sees a problem with age when it comes to vaping. “If you’re underage, you definitely shouldn’t be doing it,” she said. An anonymous survey respondent agrees with this statement, saying, “It bothers me that younger students are doing it illegally.”
Other students expressed their concern merely over the health risks of vaping, such as nicotine addiction. “I don’t look down upon them, but I feel like they need help to stop,” one student said. “You just don’t know what’s in it.”
Some students, such as junior Shannon Sweeney, don’t look at those who vape in a negative light. “I don’t look down on people [who vape.] I don’t think judging them is a nice thing to do,” Sweeney said. Likewise, 43 percent of students agree with Sweeney’s statement that vaping doesn’t affect them, and therefore doesn’t bother them.
Carter also believes that vaping is an extremely common practice at JC. She sees vaping as a form of “social gathering.” As a result of this, she doesn’t feel judged by her peers.
While Carter isn’t worried about how she is perceived by those around her, she admits that she is bothered by those who are “obnoxious” or those who are overly judgmental towards her vaping habits.
“I think a big majority of the school vapes, so I don’t think it changes anything. It’s like a hobby,” she said.
New trend mirrors past cigarette use
It was 1969, and JC students were voting on whether to designate a controversial smoking lounge in school. Now, it’s 2017 and students slip into bathroom stalls to vape, vibe, and JUUL in order to get a buzz before class. The nicotine craze has become an unavoidable subject in the community, and the trends of vaping and cigarette smoking have gone hand-in-hand in this outbreak.
“I think vaping has become a trend because I see vapes almost everywhere and most of my friends have them,” Samantha Smith, a student that vapes and smokes cigarettes regularly, said. Smith is an alias used to protect this student’s identity.
Both cigarettes and vaping are common trends among high school teenagers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every day in the United States, 2,100 young adults become daily smokers. Whether it’s to satisfy nicotine cravings or for other motives, enough teens vape and smoke to make them normalized activities. Although smoking cigarettes and vaping are both popular with teens, they differ in how they’re perceived.
Vaping devices, including vibes and JUULs, are new developments in the nicotine world and are more technological forms of smoking. Users fill the battery-powered products with flavored juices, which are inhaled as a vapor or smoke.
These devices are much more casual and discreet than cigarettes because their designs are simplistic. For example, a Vibe looks like a slim pen at first glance due to its shape and size, making it convenient to carry and use. “Vapes make it so much easier for students to smoke without getting caught because they don’t smell, and they’re so easy to carry around with you,” Smith said.
Despite all of these new innovations, cigarettes still remain a recurring trend in young adults. Cigarettes often have an ignominy surrounding them due to the harmful health effects that have been brought to people’s attention through anti-cigarette campaigns sponsored by the government. However, this form of smoking has stayed relevant due to its prevalence in pop culture and profitability.
According to the American Cancer Society, although the percentage of youth-rated movies that eliminated the use of smoking increased from 35 percent to 74 percent, cigarettes still make an annual profit of $35 billion in the U.S.
Because it is newer to the smoking community and general public, researchers have not scrutinized vaping to the same extent as they have cigarettes. Vaping’s health effects, therefore, are not well known, and students may not have considered the health risks. In fact, some students believe that there are little to no health effects caused by vaping. According to a survey conducted by The Patriot of 285 students, 13 percent of students believe vaping isn’t harmful to users, while 40 percent of students believe there are harmful effects, but there are ways to avoid them.
Smith agrees with these results. “I think vaping won’t have the same taboo that cigarettes have now because most people don’t see it as harmful, they just see it as something to do,” Smith said.
While vaping has become a new alternative to cigarettes, both have harmful health effects to users due to their nicotine content. In some cases, certain vaping products, such as JUULs, can be even more harmful to users. The JUUL company states on their website that 200 puffs from a JUUL contain the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.
These health consequences are not as prominent due to lack of publication of this information. “We don’t have any generation of kids who started vaping and are now 40 years old, so we don’t know what the side effects could be,” health teacher Tess Gauthier said.
Unlike smoking cigarettes, vaping can be done indoors, which makes it even more convenient for users. This allows people to do it more frequently, potentially not realizing how much they do it, or how much nicotine they are inhaling. “I think one of the harmful things is the nicotine liquid itself, which is pretty concentrated, and it’s hard to tell how much is being consumed,” Gauthier said.
Cigarettes and vaping have made a substantial impact on high school students. No matter the health effects, people will either try new innovations or stick to their old and reliable sources to get their buzz. “I think vaping will probably not be a trend for long and cigarettes will always be around,” Smith said.
Karson Langrehr, Lauren Piercy, and Caroline Smith are In-Focus Editors for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.