Vaping is a common problem across many high schools. (Illustration by Junanna Chen)
Fountain Valley High School

Clearing up the issue of on-campus vaping

More and more students have been caught using e-cigarettes or vaping devices at Fountain Valley High School (FVHS) within the last few years, but the number of students vaping on campus does not stand out when viewed against the national trends. The increase in numbers concern health and school officials because vaping exposes them to major dangers.

“It’s not unusual to catch students that smoke,” said Assistant Principal of Supervision and Athletics Elliot Skolnick. “We catch students vaping every week.”

According to CNN, the number of high schoolers vaping this year is 80 percent higher than the numbers of high schoolers who vaped last year, while the number of middle schoolers vaping is about 50 percent higher than last year.

“It feels like there is [an increase in smoking or vaping at school]. I don’t have the data to say absolutely because sometimes in the past people were better at not being caught, but it feels like there is. But, I also know the federal government is now calling e-cigs, or vaping, an epidemic,” Skolnick said.

Often, e-cigarette usage is coined as “juuling” because of the popular e-cigarette brand JUUL or “vaping” because of the aerosol gas that users inhale and exhale. The vape juice, or e-liquid, put into the e-cigarette often contains high levels of metals like zinc, iron and lead. When the liquid is heated up by the device to produce the vapor, the levels of metal in the aerosol increase, causing it to be even more toxic.

Health officials and researchers strongly believe there to be serious consequences as a result of the exposure to dangerous chemicals from the e-cigarettes, like permanent brain damage, long-lasting addiction to nicotine and lung damage. However, solid research on the dangers of vaping has not yet been published, as vaping has only been gaining prominence in the last few years. Because there have not been any definite conclusions made upon the risks, users may underestimate the potential harm e-cigarettes carry. Some may be aware of the dangers posed by vaping, but do not believe it will cause much harm.

“I’m pretty sure that there are negative side effects, and I feel pressured to do it during social events,” said a student who has vaped “a couple of times out of curiosity.” The student asked to remain anonymous.

The reason for teenage vaping is a highly debated topic. There is no obvious trend among the FVHS students who have been caught vaping at school, nor is there one definite reason why students have turned to vaping. There are a myriad of reasons students might cite for their smoking, from peer pressure to curiosity.

“In my opinion, people vape to seem ‘cool’ and ‘trendy.’ Teenagers aren’t legally allowed to vape, so they feel as if they are older and more mature when vaping, and they get a thrill of exhilaration,” said the student.

At FVHS, the most common places for smokers are in the bathrooms, especially where there’s little light. When students witness others vaping on campus, they should use the Titan HST app to report the issue so that school officials can promptly arrive to confront the student who will be consulted and adequately helped. FVHS supervision will discuss the issue with the student’s parent and provide help according to the number of times the student has been caught, what they were in possession of and what they need to recover.

“At school we try to get them to understand that it’s not good for them and that it’s not conducive to a learning environment or working environment and so I think sometimes people forget that they are infringing on other students’ right, which is to go to a smoke-free restroom and not be intimidated by vapers in the restroom,” said Skolnick.

A bigger obstacle for school officials and parents in restricting e-cigarette use on and off campus is device detection. The devices are often compact and easy to hide, as they look similar to writing utensils.

“It’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s easy to hide it from parents and teachers. A lot of the devices don’t necessarily look like they’re a smoking device so a lot of times parents may see it and not even know what it is,” said Skolnick.

Smoke from the vaping devices is also harder to detect. While it creates cloudy, fairly thick smoke, the vapors don’t linger for long and the smell of the aerosol soon dissipates with it. Unlike the easily identifiable smell of normal cigarettes, vapes don’t have distinctive smells that would be familiar to someone who didn’t smoke or wasn’t around vapers.

Vaping came about as a way to help smokers wean off of cigarettes, and there have been instances where they’ve helped, but no research studies have shown any definite conclusion that e-cigarettes are able to help smokers stop smoking. It has also been questioned whether students use it to help them cope with certain issues. However, students who vape have high chances of being exposed to other drugs like marijuana, which contradicts any “benefits” they may have.

“When I talk to my colleagues at the other high schools, [they say] it has just become kind of a cool thing to do, and then I think what happens again is people become addicted. It’s overwhelming for me to think that a 14 or 15-year-old student might start vaping at that age and they create a lifelong habit that is going to be with them for the next 40 or 50 years,” Skolnick said.

Skolnick advised students engaged in these habits to think about their actions.

“The sooner that you can stop, the easier it’ll be to quit.”