Vape use increases

Increase in tobacco related incidents coincide with new devices

Lars Lonnroth, Frelance reporter

High school students have largely abandoned smoking in the traditional sense, with the number of students smoking cigarettes now at its lowest point since data began to be collected on the topic, the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows.

From an extremely young age, modern high schoolers have grown up inundated with a plethora of campaigns advocating against cigarette usage, ranging from typical health class presentations to the ad campaigns seen so often on T.V., and they seem to be working.

But teen smoking has not actually evaporated in recent years—it has only changed form.

On March 13, LT staff and teachers received an email about one of these changes: Vaping, more specifically, a certain brand of vape pen called a JUUL.

“I would say [vaping in general] is gaining ground rapidly,” student assistance program coordinator Jean Widing said. “I know that we have several instances per week at both campuses where somebody is either caught in possession of it [a vape pen], somebody is caught using it in the bathroom—those are the two most likely scenarios—so I would definitely say it is a problem.”

The JUUL, which has the appearance of a flash drive and is easier to conceal and obscure than traditional vape pens, has been expanding in popularity.

The email that the staff received, while not mentioning the JUUL by name, seems to be in reference to these devices. The JUUL product is roughly the size of a pinky finger, much smaller than other kinds of vape pens, is a jet black color and appears harmless to the untrained eye.

Since the JUUL looks reminiscent of a flash drive, “teacher’s unfamiliarity” with the technology leads a lot of vaping to go under-the-radar, with them disregarding the pen as only an  innocuous storage device, Widing said.

The staff-wide email was likely to combat teachers’ lack of knowledge about vaping, LT Principal Brian Waterman said.

“I’m sure that when vape pens started, they probably looked very obvious like a vape pen,” he said. “But as materials evolve, they start to look like other things you see used here—like flash drives—and so I think what we want to do is to continue to educate our staff on recognizing symptoms or recognizing signs of whatever behavior we want to stop. The more we can do that, the more we can support the kids as well.”

While many teens view vaping as less harmful than cigarettes—which may be the case—information is still lacking about the true impact vaping has on the body.

“The jury is still out in terms of what chemicals, and what components are in what you are vaping, and what that will do to your respiratory system,” Widing said, noting that “vaping does expose you to nicotine, and nicotine is still addictive, no matter what form it is in.”

Although vaping has been present for around three years now, it was only this year when vaping has really transcended the niche it had inhabited and became the most pervasive ways teens ingest nicotine, Widing said.

Since 2011 (the first year of data included) the rate of tobacco related incidents has steadily declined. From the 2011-2012 to 2015-2016 school years, the number of tobacco related incidents at LT have declined by nearly 65 percent, according to information gathered from Waterman.

Comparing the full 2016 school year and 2017 (incidents up to March 24, when the data was provided), there was a substantial increase in tobacco related incidents, jumping 67 percent. Waterman emphasized that the overall trend from 2011 shows an overall decrease.

While the administration does not differentiate between vaping and traditional cigarette smoking in its data, with students’ views on cigarettes at extreme lows, the increase this year can most likely attributed to vaping, according to students interviewed.

A sophomore who whished to remain anonymous said that the size of the device has made it easy to use during school, which has played a part in the JUUL’s increasing prevalence at LT. The fact that it is so potent, too, helps vapers get their “buzz” without raising much suspicion, he said.

“When people JUUL it is just something you can easily hide. You can do whatever you want with it. People just rip it in the bathroom or whatever. It is just like a quick and easy nic buzz,” the sophomore said.

It is illegal for a person under 18 to possess a vape pen, even if it does not contain any substances in it, Student Resource Officer AJ Hall said.

Currently, there is nothing in the curriculum about the technology in LT’s health class, but Widing said that it is something that would be very important to add.

“We can encourage student conversation, we can react when people get caught in possession and we talk about why,” Widing said. “But prevention is hard.”