Vaping endemic worsens in high schools

By MAGGIE SNAVELY

Exposure to e-cigarette ads or vape-friendly environments can increase an adolescent’s susceptibility to future e-cigarette use. (Ethan Dewri / Ethic News)

Vaping among teenagers had once been unheard of but with advancements in e-cigarettes and kid-friendly flavors, numbers have skyrocketed. It has become so common that some adults do not even think twice when they hear kids talk about it, or when the smell or smoke confronts students in the hallways.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in the past month, “the use of e-cigarettes was 9.5 percent among 8th graders, 14.0 percent among 10th graders and 16.2 percent among 12th graders.” Evidently, increasing younger students are getting a hold of these vapes despite the products’ older target audiences. A Truth Initiative study has revealed that teens are “16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than older age groups.” More kids than adults are using e-cigarettes when they have not even reached the age for legal purchases of such products. So where are these students getting their vape pens and e-cigarettes? Why are the numbers of teen users growing higher and higher each day?

The vaping epidemic is only exacerbated by the heavy social media marketing of these products. Almost every student will confirm that they have social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and so on. Many e-cigarette brands have relied on social media to market their products in hopes of reaching a greater online audience; however, a large portion of that online audience is teenagers. For its launch in 2015, the e-cigarette brand JUUL spent over one million dollars to market their products on the internet, according to Truth Initiative. These ads associate vaping with themes that are especially appealing to teenagers such as social acceptance, recreation, relaxation and freedom.

Vape companies also grab students’ attention with various enticing and kid-friendly flavors such as bubble gum, birthday cake and vanilla; these companies are essentially marketing vape flavors as candy while packaging the e-liquids to look like common food items. The 2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that “43 percent of young people who have ever used an e-cigarette tried them because of appealing flavors.” Both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have taken action against e-liquid companies that use candy or other appealing flavors to entice younger markets. Truth Initiative has called on the FDA to fully regulate e-cigarettes to reduce youth appeal and consequently decrease the number of high school students vaping instead of focusing on their education.

“43 percent of young people who have ever used an e-cigarette tried them because of appealing flavors.”

2017 National Youth Tobacco Survey

The rise in teenage vaping has grabbed the attention of not only the FDA, but also that of countless concerned communities across America. The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed that 3.6 million high school and middle school students currently use e-cigarettes. Additionally, the Centers for Control and Prevention revealed that one in five high school students reported in 2018 that they frequently used e-cigarettes; many of these students also reported using more than one tobacco or vape product. So what is leading this many students to vape or use e-cigarettes? USA TODAY reports how a nineteen-year-old student, Cassandra Cini, started vaping her freshman year because her boyfriend had a vape and vaped himself. “It’s so stupid to say it out loud, but I literally got addicted to it because it was a social thing,” said Cini. She further explains that she tried to quit vaping multiple times but, without her vape, she gets headaches and feels shaky. It appears most students begin vaping and using e-cigarettes due to social expectations given that these products are portrayed as “cool” or “trendy.”

However, following the latest trends can have terrible consequences. According to CNN Health, eight people have reportedly died due to vaping-related lung injury and illness. Across America, the CDC has reported more than 530 cases of severe lung illnesses linked to e-cigarette use. The Washington Post reports how a healthy 20-year-old, identified only as Mitchell, went from a hiking enthusiast to barely breathing on two machines forcing air in and out of his lungs. When Mitchell left the hospital, he did not leave without lasting problems⁠—his lung capacity diminished by 25 percent and he suffered from short term memory loss.

The Redlands Unified community has begun to take steps to combat this vaping epidemic among students. Citrus Valley High School principal, Rhonda Bruce, hopes to soon install vape censors in student restrooms as “that is where vaping tends to happen most often.” On-campus officers plan to hold assemblies to talk about vaping and its consequences during students’ PE periods. Citrus Valley’s lead security officer, Eddie Rocha, wants to remind students that e-cigarettes are “still considered a tobacco product.” Rocha explains that the first warning for possession of a tobacco product on campus will be confiscation, detention and a conference with parents. Subsequent warnings will most likely end in a suspension. 

“Kids are starting to die from these kinds of things. This is very concerning to me. Vaping can lead to smoking weed and other terrible things. It’s a really nasty habit to get into.”

Eddie Rocha
Citrus Valley High School
lead security officer

The Redlands Unified School District has recently offered an opportunity to attend an informational presentation regarding the “Dangers of Vaping,” led by the Common Vision Coalition. The free-to-attend presentation will include information regarding the associated health risks of teenage vaping and the culture and language surrounding the phenomenon. A panel of district and law enforcement officials will be available after the presentation to answer the attendees’ salient questions.

The presentation will be held Wednesday, Sept. 25 from 6-7 p.m. in the District Board Room. The address is 25 W. Lugonia Ave., Redlands, CA.

Space and seating are limited. Registration for this free event is available via: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dangers-of-vaping-tickets-72154121921. For more information, please email communications@redlands.k12.ca.us.

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