By Ethaniel Reyes and Albert Chang-Yoo
At Summit Shasta, the fact that many students vape isn’t exactly breaking news. In the bathrooms, there is often a faint wisp of flavored vapor, leftover from a Juul in use. Shasta is located just 10 miles from the headquarters of JUUL Labs Inc., the company at the epicenter of the rise of teenage vaping. A Juul is a device that looks similar to a USB-stick but is in fact an e-cigarette that uses small replaceable pods
Both at Shasta and across high schools in America, a new concern is making headlines: The rising use of vaping among teenagers is causing many to fear the ramifications of health going into the future.
Vaping at Shasta
At the Summit Shasta campus, while the problems might not seem so serious, there are definite examples of active vape culture within our learning spaces. One student, a junior (who, because he has vaped before, will remain anonymous), talked about vaping on campus. “It’s pretty big,” he said, “everyone wants to know what it’s like to smoke.”
Juuls are appealing, he said, because “it’s like a kids’ version of a cigarette […] you can just recharge it and put in a new pod.” Peer pressure is definitely a factor because, according to this student, you don’t want people to think you’re a “wuss.”
On a personal note, this student recently decided to quit vaping. After going for a period in which he Juuled quite often, he came to the realization that “any type of smoking isn’t good.” As for other students who are thinking about vaping, he said, “Don’t do it because you will be hooked for life.”
Another student, Shasta junior Jedediah Lupe, talked about some of the different aspects of how his peers participate in the realm of vape culture.
According to him, he believes people participate simply for the sake of it or just get peer pressured into doing it; he looks down upon it, bringing up the fact that there are a lot of chemicals in vapes that could ”take away your brain cells”.
“I’ll say people do it every day… just for the fun of it, or just to be cool in front of their friends because they’re doing it,” he said. It doesn’t make any sense to him that people are doing it and how people think it’s cool, simply calling it downright “dumb” in a straightforward manner.
And the ramifications to both smoking and vaping also don’t appeal to him as well. He revealed that his friends “act like little kids” whenever they smoke, seeming like they are “always forgetting things, always hungry, always wanting to do something”.
“I kinda [have] respect for those who don’t smoke,” he said. He honestly believes that vaping and smoking habits should be stopped as soon as possible for health’s sake. “Don’t do it. Smoking will take over your life. Ruin your lungs, probably get lung cancer in the future.”
In the national spotlight
Recently, President Trump entered the debate over vaping. During a press conference this month, he commented, “We have a problem in our country… It’s a problem nobody really thought about too much a few years ago, and it’s called ‘vaping’”.
The Trump administration is moving to ban the sale of flavored pods, pointing to the rise in teen use and the recent cases of vaping-related illnesses (including seven deaths). It’s part of growing concern over teen vaping. Vaping among teenagers jumped 78% from 2017 to 2018. 1 in 5 high school seniors reported vaping within a one-month span.
Locally, in San Francisco, the sale of e-cigarettes has already been banned. San Francisco is the home of the Juul Labs headquarters, a major e-cigarette company, and many blame Juul for the rise of vaping due to its deceptive marketing tactics and products that appeal to young adults.
In a study conducted by a Stanford research team, it was concluded that Juul’s marketing tactics in its first 6 months of operations to be “patently youth-oriented.” Juul’s social media accounts (which have now been shut down) catered mainly to younger adults, and many of its models could have easily passed as high-school or college-age. The study reports that “about 10% of American cigarette smokers are among the age group of those most heavily frequenting JUUL’s social media advertising channels,” which highlights Juul’s promotional efforts were notably misalignedwith its professed purpose.
Juul is also known for its sale of pods that come in vibrant flavors, including some such as watermelon, creme, and mint. While these are meant to make Juuls more appealing to former smokers, it can also cater to youth. The researchers wrote that “youth perceived that flavored e-liquids advertisements are meant for them.”
According to Engadget, Juul has responded to the criticism, saying that “We have never marketed to youth […] We have no higher priority than to prevent youth usage of our products. Our product is intended for current adult smokers and our marketing specifically is designed to help achieve that goal.” Anybody under the age of 21 who visits their website will be directed to a smoke-free government site. They also list a lengthy amount of measures taken to prevent the spread of underage vaping, which can be read here. Juul is also known for its sale of pods that come in vibrant flavors, including some such as watermelon, creme, and mint. While these are meant to make Juuls more appealing to former smokers, it can also cater to youth. The researchers wrote that “youth perceived that flavored e-liquids advertisements are meant for them.”
What do teachers think?
So what do teachers at Shasta think about the rise in teenage vaping? One in particular – Vaughan Wilkins – a Summit Expeditions teacher for both Psychology and Wilderness, explores the certain psychological complications and consequences smoking and vaping has on teens.
“The sneaky part of addiction is that you don’t know what’s happening until it’s actually done,” Mr. Wilkins said. Coming from being an addict from high school to college, he himself has experienced the side effects of smoking and addiction, also emphasizing how it reflects our behavior and our inner emotional well-being. “Anyone who gets addicted is not getting something else in their life,” he mentioned.
Even as Mr. Wilkins grew out of his addiction since college and started working as a teacher, he still finds himself in situations where vaping and smoking are still prominent. Last year, Mr. Wilkins said that he had to cancel all of his field trips for his class due to a few smoking incidents happening on one, single field trip alone. “It was a bummer for the kids who had nothing to do with it. But, that’s what happens when you are in a team,” he explained.
Effects on teens
There’s more to smoking than its negative psychological effects on people, especially for teens and adolescents who are just starting the bad habit. According to a 2016 research paper by Tobacco Control, an international journal site with peer-reviewed articles on tobacco’s effects, it was found that recent vape users were more than four likely to report past-year cigarette smoking as people who didn’t vape, as well as twice as likely than those who had smoked in the past but not as the baseline.
The health disadvantages don’t stop there. Another report, one by AAP News & Journals, shows that people that continue to vape and smoke have significantly higher concentrations of carcinogens in urine samples than people who either only smoke or do nothing at all.
Britt Ehrhardt, the public spokesperson for the Santa Clara Public Health Department, was also able to add on more analysis about the effects of teen vaping in the Bay Area. Ehrhardt pointed out that this is an issue in her county, given the increasing number of teen vape users which is seen very “alarming” in her eyes. According to one of the surveys they have funded, she reports that almost one in every three teens have tried vaping,
“Don’t be fooled: the tobacco industry is intentionally targeting kids and teens with flavors coupled with addictive nicotine,” Ehrhardt warned to teens. Juuls contain almost twenty times more nicotine in one cartridge then a single cigarette. She also debunked the lie that vapes are “just” water vapor. “The vapor is actually aerosol that may contain metals, particulates, and toxic chemicals. The nicotine content of the aerosol inhaled during vaping can be very high, often much higher than a cigarette.”
What Ehrhardt does with the Santa Clara Public Health Department is that they work with different organizations in the community to prevent tobacco use by means of different presentations to youth who may or may not be struggling with smoking and vaping. As well as that, they have even invested over $1 million to provide for implementation strategies of tobacco prevention in cities since 2010, according to Ehrhardt.
So what does this mean for Shasta students?
For many Shasta students, vaping is a problem that is encountered every day. However, there is proof that it is indeed a path for many to quit, even though it is advisable by many individuals that smoking isn’t something that people should do at all.
As vaping at Shasta continues, Mr. Wilkins has advice for high schoolers who want to try out vaping: “You need food, water, shelter, love — nicotine hijacks all four of those and convinces you the only thing you need is nicotine… the cost is too high.” According to him, it’s very important to “weigh the costs and benefits,” and “think about what’s missing in your life and how to fix that.”
Featured Image: A man using an e-cigarette. PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia Commons