It began as a joke, an online phenomenon, that bled into classrooms, locker rooms and hallways. Flying under teachers radars are small metal devices resembling portable flash drives, or vapes.
The modern electronic cigarette debuted in the US in 2007. Since then, the trend of vaping is on the rise. The use of electronic cigarettes in teens has surpassed those of traditional cigarettes. According to National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), 16.2% of 12th graders use electronic cigarettes on a regular basis, while only 11.4% of 12th graders use traditional cigarettes.
“I don’t know if vaping ever was really cool, but a lot of kids do it,” senior Jesse Alcauter said.
Several different companies produce electronic cigarettes. These devices come in all different shapes and sizes. Originally, these devices were meant to be used as a healthier alternative to smoking. But today, students are using them as a hobby and social pastime.
“I started when I was hanging out with my friends and one of them had one and I tried it. I bought my own because it was kind of fun. It was like when you blow out during the winter and it looks like a cloud,” Alcauter said. “I did it out of boredom.”
Over the past few years, electronic cigarettes have been rising in popularity, especially among teens. Electronic cigarettes can be easier than other substances for students to get their hands on. According to NIDA, seven out of 10 teenagers are exposed to advertisements for electronic cigarettes.
“I can’t say for certain that there are more kids vaping, but there are more kids getting caught. Whether they’re more bold about it or it seems more mainstream and so they’re comfortable pulling out their electronic cigarette at a football game or even in school,” Student Assistance Coordinator Keith Bullock said.
The laws for vaping nicotine are the same as those put in place for traditional cigarettes. But there are no laws currently in place regarding use or purchase of nicotine-free electronic cigarettes. However, it is still against school rules to have a vape in the building.
To buy an electronic cigarette containing nicotine, a person must be 18. Someone under 18 who has possession of one can be charged and face the same consequences as if they had been caught with a traditional cigarette. Possession of an electronic cigarette with nicotine, according to the student handbook, results in a four hour Saturday detention and/ or a Village Ordinance citation may be given.
Like any other drug, age restrictions do not effectively prevent all underage users from getting hold of an electronic cigarette.
“A lot of my friends who were 18 bought it for me and there are some places that will sell it to you if you look old enough,” Alcauter, who began vaping as a sophomore, said.
Although electronic cigarettes are being advertised as a healthy alternative to smoking a traditional cigarette, they comes with many health concerns of their own.
“I think a lot of things high schoolers say is that it’s not as bad as cigarettes, you’re not gonna get lung cancer or anything, so that makes it easier for me to swallow. But I still know that I’m putting sh*t in my lungs,” Alcauter said.
The electronic cigarette device heats up a pod filled with liquid which turns into a vapor that is inhaled into the lungs. These devices can contain different types of substances including just flavoring, nicotine, or marijuana. According to the NIDA, 13.7% of teens didn’t know what substance their electronic cigarettes contained.
“Students can use it without nicotine so I think they see that there is less harm to their overall health. But most of the students that get caught with it admit to using nicotine. That’s what is primarily addicting, besides the psychology of addiction,” Bullock said.
According to NIDA, 66% of teens use just flavoring. Regardless of the lack of nicotine, the chemicals that these electronic cigarettes contain, include acetyl propionyl and diacetyl, which are linked to lung damage and other health issues. Additionally, due to the fact that these are new devices, the long term damages of using them are still uncertain. However, short term effects can be noticed.
“The buzz is like feeling lightheaded. I didn’t really like the buzz. I got really bad headaches I remember driving afterwards I couldn’t even pay attention it was bad,” Alcauter said.
Electronic cigarettes containing nicotine have additional dangers. Nicotine is an addictive substance that can cause the brain to stop making its normal amount of dopamine, and become reliant on nicotine for the brain to produce dopamine.
“It is important for people to understand that e-cigarettes/vaping have shown in preliminary testing to contain some of the same carcinogens that typical cigarettes have,” Health Educator at Robert Crown Center for Health Education Lance Williams said in an Omega Interview. “Although, the long term damage that they may have on a person is not yet known because of how recently e-cigarettes and vaping have been present.”
Due to the fact that the long term effects of vaping aren’t known there are few regulations. In order to create appropriate monitoring the government is relying on the public to report health repercussions. The FDA allows users to report issues with their electronic cigarettes on their website. There are many reports of instances where electronic cigarettes have exploded or had other issues that can harm the user.
“The juice inside would sometimes leak out and it could be really hot because it has to heat up in order to produce vape. Sometimes I got the actual liquid in my mouth and it tasted horrible,” Alcauter said.