E-cigarette epidemic

A look into why one in four teens vape

Caya Craig '23 and Fiona Lacroix '22

Margot Murphy ’23

Vaping is an issue that has saddled American society since its creation in 2003 and introduction to the United States in 2007. Initially, the electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) was intended to act as a substitute for traditional cigarettes, and to aid those looking to stop smoking. The creator, Hon Lik, created the electronic device after the death of his heavy-smoking father, who passed away of lung cancer. Now, the popular appliance is specifically targeted to youth, offering all sorts of different flavors which raise interest and appeal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four high school students vape. Although vaping was created as a beneficial tool to limit tobacco use, nicotine is used to emulate smoking, causing irreparable health issues specifically in teens, like damages in parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse controls. Registered nurse at Beaumont Hospital Sunny Adams witnessed around five people in her care unit pass away as a result of vaping-caused injuries, even more being placed on ventilators for difficulty breathing.

“It’s called VALI-Vaping Associated Lung Injury,” Adams said. “Maybe about three years ago, there was some bootlegged THC oil that people were making in their basements, not for themselves, but for people in the local community. This THC oil had other things in it that were causing people to have pneumonia, like fungal pneumonia. Once it got into the lungs, it couldn’t get out, so people died prematurely from that. I think even a North student had a double lung transplant from VALI.”

Oftentimes, teenagers feel inclined to participate in activities such as vaping as a result of their surroundings. Seeing enticing advertisements on television or your friends and siblings enjoying something causes others to want to join in. Not only do societal pressures come into play in this instance, but the mass variety of flavors and colors to choose from is another attractive factor to these addictive devices. According to the CDC, a study from 2013-2014 showed the assortment of flavors being the main cause for adolescent use of e-cigarettes. For an anonymous student ‘23, it was easy for them to engage in vaping as a result of wanting to fit in.

“I started vaping in the 7th grade because my brother and some of my friends did it, and at the time I thought it was cool,” Anonymous ‘23 said. “It honestly just made me feel older. When you see people doing this around you, not participating makes you feel left out and not as cool.

Besides the outlying pressures, the sensation behind the act of vaping and smoking oil pens is what makes it so addicting. According to another anonymous student ‘22, getting throughout the usual 8-hour school day becomes difficult. They often find themselves longing for the sensation, searching for that high.

“You can take one hit and you’ll feel calmer, but then you can get buzzed if you take multiple hits,” Anonymous ‘22 said. “(It) depends on your tolerance, but if you take multiple hits, you’ll feel like you’re floating. You’ll feel happy and comfortable. But you only feel that for a few seconds and you come down and then you get a headache and then you just feel uncomfortable. Your body hurts and you feel like you’re chasing a high. Then you hit it again just so you’re not feeling as bad.”

Margot Murphy ’23

The real problems come into play when something used as a pleasure inducer starts having detrimental effects on personal and academic performance. Consuming high amounts of nicotine are shown to cause added stress, anxiety and depression. For Anonymous ‘23, the pleasure that comes from vaping is not worth damaging mental health, personal or academic life.

“Since I have started vaping, I have noticed some added anxiety and stress, (which) really factored into a greater issue of depression. It also has definitely affected me personally because it is incredibly expensive. But, I would say it has had worse effects on my academic life. After being caught with one during school, I was suspended for about a week and I can say that it was not worth it.”

Vaping in theory is useful. But when healthy teenagers and young adults start turning to the device for more than what it is meant for, health issues arise. According to Western Australia’s public health system, people who vape are 60 percent more likely to develop chronic pulmonary disease and 30 percent more likely to develop asthma. In the long run, the mental and physical drawbacks far outweigh any benefits of the e-cigarette. For Anonymous ‘22, noticing the side effects and detriments caused by vaping was scary to acknowledge, but was necessary to avoid the addicting cycle and look for a better use of time.

“It helped me a little bit mentally at first,” Anonymous ‘22 said. “I felt like it was an outlet, but the long-term repercussions of it haven’t been the best. I’m now relying on this thing and I don’t like how it makes me feel afterwards if I do it too much. I was an athlete and I did notice shortness of breath at practice. Or, I would wake up after a night of vaping and feel wheezy. I was actually seeing side effects, not just reading about them, and that led me to take a break.”

According to Adams, the fungus from the oils and products in devices such as e-cigarettes gets trapped into your lungs, making you much more susceptible to health issues such as hypothermia or asthma. This often creates the need for oxygen tanks, creating limitations on everyday activities and where you go. She compares vape-caused breathing difficulties to having an elephant sitting on your chest. As of January 2020, the CDC has confirmed 60 deaths as a result of lung injuries and other trauma caused by vaping.

“As an ex-smoker, I’m not quite sure how we let vaping happen as a society,” Adams said. “When vaping was new, to get a bigger piece of the market share they made the nicotine cartridges taste like strawberries and cotton candy, as I’m sure (many) are aware, but they also increased the amount of nicotine and the other types of addictive substances that are in them.”

Ultimately, vaping is an addicting waste of money that can cause severe mental and physical health issues if not used appropriately. The vaping industry has become a multibillion-dollar business, specifically targeting adolescents to buy their products and to essentially become addicted. In 2019 alone, the CDC received over 2,000 reports of vaping-related lung injuries, and over three dozen reported deaths. The problem has gone so far in our community, that schools are now shutting down bathrooms and having police on standby to prevent the issue. Although these measures have proven to be unsuccessful in the age-old fight against e-cigarette use in teens, finding potential solutions to stop the costly and dangerous addiction is necessary.

“I feel like teenagers should make a mistake or two, but the stakes are higher with vaping,” Adams said. “Nobody looks cool in a hospital gown, on oxygen or on a ventilator. None of that is cool.”