E-cigarette use rises among teens, school officials discuss initiatives, consequences
December 14, 2018
School vaping incidents have increased “tremendously,” resource officer Mark Holloway says, but studies reveal that vaping isn’t just a local problem.
Nationally, the Food and Drug Administration reports that e-cigarette use has increased 78 percent in high schools from 2017 to 2018, and 48 percent among middle schools for the same time range.
“A lot of the middle schoolers are getting involved, which carries over into high school,” Holloway said. “It’s not just Plant, it’s everywhere. Not just in this city. It’s everywhere.”
The Food and Drug Administration is now working to regulate the use of vapes and e-liquids, which is the fluid found in vapes that often contains nicotine. The FDA has now implemented a national advertisement campaign designed to influence teens to avoid e-cigarettes by using social media-based tactics, such as YouTube ads aimed at adolescents aged 12 to 17.
The FDA is also trying to prevent companies like JUUL from marketing their products to teens via use of “kid-friendly” flavors, such as mango and bubblegum. Warning letters and penalty fines were distributed in September to companies who illegally sold vape products to minors.
Assistant principal Napoleon Wade said that the administration is doing everything it can to prevent vaping, such as having teachers go into student bathrooms, and that teachers are also trying to be more conscious of what students are doing in class.
“The kids become more and more … clever to try and hide things,” Wade said. “You can have kids going into bathroom stalls together … just to get a buzz off of something. They’re willing to risk their whole reputation just to get a buzz that lasts maybe an hour.”
Wade also noted that, in his experience, he’s seen that students who vape with nicotine products are more likely to try different, harder substances.
“Now students have gone from vaping, using tobacco and nicotine products,” Wade said. “They’re now, most times, trying other drugs like marijuana and then prescription drugs.”
Wade also said that he believes students should try to consider the effects that their actions have on the people around them.
“Kids need to understand that they shouldn’t cause stress to people, and that’s what they’re doing,” Wade said. “We have more things to do than run into the bathrooms all day long.”
The legal consequences of vaping vary based upon the number of offenses and the contents the vape contains.
Officer Mark Holloway said that students who are seen vaping on campus are required to fulfill a smoking program that costs $30 and another class that is $15 if the vape contains tobacco only. In the courses, students learn about the effects of tobacco, but a first offense will not go on a permanent record unless the student already has a prior offense.
If the student commits a second offense with a tobacco vape, consequences escalate to fines and possible license suspension according to Holloway.
If the vape is found to contain THC (a chemical found in cannabis) the student is required to take a juvenile avoidance program for their first offense and is charged with a misdemeanor but doesn’t need to appear in court. For the second offense, the student will be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
Although not a school policy, some coaches have implemented rules removing athletes who vape under the legal age limit.
“Students being kicked off is not a rule that the school had,” principal Johnny Bush said. “The coach controls the team, and if the coach makes it known upfront that that will not be accepted and will not be tolerated, I don’t tell the coach how to coach their team or run their team.”
School punishments for vaping range from two days of in-school suspension to up to 10 days of EPIC, an alternative out of school suspension program.
“All we can do is try to prevent them from getting onto campus,” Holloway said. “It’s just up to the students to govern themselves accordingly and show some respect.”
According to adolescent health specialist Jasmine Reese, the receptors in a developing adolescent’s brain handle nicotine and tobacco products in harmful ways.
“One of the things nicotine does is that it looks very similar to your brain’s natural chemicals and it can bind to the receptors … and make your brain want more of that unnatural substance,” Reese said.
Reese also discussed the fact that many teens believe that vaping has none of the same health risks as smoking traditional cigarettes.
“We are learning now that there are a lot of similarities,” Reese said. “We don’t know what’s in each of these vapes, but in a lot of them we’ve been finding substances that are very harmful to health.”
Reese said that along with cancer-causing substances being discovered in vapes, metals such as nickel and tin are present in refined particles that can travel to lungs and cause long-term breathing problems.
Along with respiratory issues, the American Heart Association reported in a 2017 medical journal that e-cigarette use is connected to the development of cardiovascular disease, although effects are less pronounced than traditional cigarettes.
“The vaping product hasn’t been very well controlled, so one of the main dangers is that we don’t know what’s in all of these solutions and things that are sold,” Reese said.
Alexis Perno, Kate Caranante and Graham Hill contributed to these reports.