Rise in vape addiction threatens teens

Abigail Kuhn

The obnoxious smell of fruit greets you just outside the door of most bathrooms. Step inside, and there’s people huddled around the sink.

You just want to use the toilet. 

They’re there for a quick high.

“This vaping epidemic, it’s nationwide,” assistant principal Corey Gabbert said. “Every school is dealing with this.” 

These compact electronic cigarettes, or vapes, are discrete, easy to hide and incredibly addictive. Vaping has recently increased in popularity, and so has the severity of many teenagers’ nicotine addictions.

Of students surveyed, 76% said they had noticed an increase in the number of students vaping in recent years. School Resource Officer Amanda Stitt noted about 50 cases of vaping incidents in the first semester.

Vape cartridges, often called pods, contain a deceiving amount of nicotine. Nicotine is the addictive chemical in vapes and tobacco that can give its users a coveted “buzz.”

As more teenagers continue to become addicted, many can’t go through the school day without using their vapes. 

“I have kids that say that they’re addicted and can’t go 15-20 minutes without taking a hit,” Stitt said. “If you can’t go the school day without taking a hit, you’re probably addicted.”

While many teenagers believe that vaping can be healthier than smoking cigarettes, they can contain as much as or more nicotine than a standard pack of cigarettes. 

The long-term effects of vaping are unknown. 

“There’s not enough research,” Stitt said. 

However, researchers at the Missouri State Medical Association do know that adolescent brains are not fit to handle nicotine. 

Nicotine exposure to the developing brains of teens has been linked with cognitive deficits and impairment in memory and other brain functions. Studies suggest that exposure to nicotine during times of major brain development can result in hyperactivity and impulsive behavior changes. 

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenagers who vape were more likely to become involved in physical fighting, attempted suicide and other substance use when compared to those who did not vape.

Many young people are attracted to vaping due to sweet and appealing flavors that can often disguise the amount of nicotine they contain. In 2020, the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a policy prioritizing enforcement against certain vape flavors that are more likely to appeal to kids and teens, like fruit and mint flavors. 

However, this hasn’t stopped these flavored vapes from getting to teens. 

A 2020 survey by the CDC found that among high school students, most were using fruit, mint and dessert-flavored vapes.

Students are not only vaping at home, but at school as well. Many students use the restrooms to vape, but it can extend to other school grounds and even classrooms, affecting students who don’t vape. 

Of students surveyed, 83% said they often or sometimes see or smell students vaping at school. 

Students caught with a vape at school will receive suspensions and possible expulsions, but there can be legal repercussions as well. 

“Legally, for juveniles, if you possess tobacco products… you would receive a ticket, and it is a mandatory court appearance, meaning you have to go to court,” Stitt said.

Being prosecuted for vaping can affect a student’s criminal record and follow them throughout their lives. 

When students are caught vaping, they are offered opportunities to help themselves quit. These can include diversion programs like VapeEducate, or groups like the Mental Health Association (MHA). 

“Principals, counselors, myself included, we can all make referrals to the MHA,” Stitt said. “They have counseling: drug, tobacco, alcohol treatment.”

While many students are willing to take risks when they vape, adults are urging them to take caution. 

“It’s not just one hit,” Stitt said. “Know what you’re putting into your body.”