Written by Juliann Dormer and Lauren Grasso
An inside look at students who choose to vape and what the administration is doing about it
Students walk in and take their seats for the hour. One student in particular sits towards the back of the room. No one thinks otherwise. Learning resumes as usual.
The student in the back wears long sleeves and seems to constantly hold one arm near their face. A friend sitting behind you taps your shoulder, and you turn around. In your peripheral vision, you see a small cloud of smoke slowly dissipate from their wrist, vanishing within seconds into the air surrounding them.
A small metal device has become a topic of discourse for adults and their children who are choosing to ingest the vapor solution found in electronic cigarettes, a habit more commonly referred to as vaping.
Vaping is a relatively recent trend that has piqued the interest of young adults in particular. For high school students, this is no exception. According to the American Cancer Society, E-cigarette use increased by 78 percent from 2017 to 2018; this estimates that roughly 20.8% of high school students vape.
Multiple students discussed their interactions with the device and their peers’ entanglement with them.
“I feel like it’s a problem. It gets a lot of kids wrapped up in things they shouldn’t be involved in,” said sophomore Avr Murray. “Teenagers are being introduced to adult problems that they aren’t ready to handle yet at a young age.”
In general, one person’s decision to vape does not always impact others, since many people choose to do it in private. Regardless, not all young adults today are completely on board with the portable smoking devices.
I personally don’t mind. If they want to do it, that’s on them,” said senior Isaiah Scruggs.
"I just wish they wouldn’t do it in public because some people have issues with their respiratory system. It’s disrespectful.”
I think, right now, it is one of the most significant adolescent issues.
Those who have preexisting conditions are especially affected, even in their everyday learning environment.
“A lot of people [are vaping], especially in the bathrooms,” said freshman Karley Simmel.
“For me, I have a problem in my lungs. The smoke gets congested. I’m allergic to it. It’s not something that’s good for me to be around.”
Health effects aside, the popularity of vaping can impact those who are not necessarily interested in the habit. Peer pressure to try new substances has been an ongoing matter for generations, and it is no different when it comes to vaping.
“Yes, absolutely [I’ve felt pressured to vape].” said senior Zoë Rickman. “People are like ‘come on, do it’, but I don’t want to [vape]... It’s very harmful.”
Senior Jen Malone* feels pressure to fit in and chooses to vape because of it.
“I vape because the people that I surround myself with all do it, and so it’s kind of like being pressured into it because... you want to fit in and you don’t want them to force you to do it,” said Malone. “My friends [would] get mad at me for using theirs all of the time, [so I bought my own vape].”
Addiction is a likely effect one has to face when choosing to vape, but for some, it may be a choice of picking between their own bad vices.
It’s been four years since I’ve smoked cigarettes... my friends [had their own vapes], instead of using theirs I decided to get myself one,” said senior *Mark Wimble. “I don’t worry about it, because there are ten million other things that’ll kill me before this does.”
Some who choose to vape may understand the potential consequences but continue due to addiction or outside influences. Since it is a new trend, there is minimal research on the lifelong effects of vaping, which makes it hard to influence users to stop.
“I think it’s really easy to worry about [addiction] because as teenagers, we’re not really educated on the short term and long term effects that it has on our body, so we don’t really know if it hurts us, or can hurt us in the long run,” said Malone.
The popularity of vaping has overwhelmed many area schools, with students, parents, and faculty all seeing the effects.
“I don’t think many people are surprised [about me vaping]... because a majority of the kids at our school and other schools do it, so it’s not really a surprise.” said Malone. “It’s a surprise if you don’t have [a vape].”
Vaping has become such a norm in schools that the problem is increasingly hard to combat for teachers and parents. A recent Ramparts Twitter poll asked students and community members if they either vape or know someone who has. As of Nov. 29, 41 of 48 respondents revealed they knew someone who partakes in the action or that they do it themselves.
The popularity of the habit doesn’t help, making a vape relatively easy for students to get, use regularly, and hide from parents and administration.
“Getting hooked on it at such a young age, where something is consuming them so greatly, is very scary, especially how easy it is to get and how easy it is to hide from parents,” said varsity football coach and social studies teacher Chad Fulk. “You can see how it affects them physically. Mentally, I’ve seen kids that are super jittery and just can’t think about anything else but going to the bathroom to vape.”
In addition to teachers who directly deal with the issue with students, administration is actively working towards solutions for students vaping in school.
“We know more about it than [the parents] do because we’re dealing with it at school and we’re talking with kids, but for most parents, they don’t even know what it is,” said Willard. “It becomes that quick little buzz that they get and is something that they need on a constant basis,” said Principal Michael Willard.
Vaping under the age of 18 is illegal, making the fact some parents are unaware of their teens’ smoking an even greater problem. According to Willard, administrators are doing what they can with the resources they have readily available.
“I’m actually sending three people to a vaping conference on Dec. 5, because it’s a national trend,” said Willard. “We’ve moved to just flat out suspensions for even having a vaping pen at school, all the way to possession and distribution having more days. This is not something that is going to be tolerated in school and it’s not a joke. It moved from nothing to one of the biggest issues we’re dealing with--overnight almost.”
Administration is also informing students of the consequences and risks that vaping can bring. Due to the addictive nature of vaping, however, it isn’t as simple as just punishing the student.
“I think right now it is one of the most significant adolescent issues,” said Willard.
In response to the increase of students caught vaping on school grounds, staff members agree something needs to be done.
Said Fulk, “It’s one of these things where every kid thinks it’s the cool thing to do. But [we’re] not really sure why, how, or what to do to stop it.”
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* name was changed; student spoke on the condition of confidentiality