Smokin’ in the boys’ room used to be the cool thing to do.
Today, vaping in the boys’—and girls’—rooms has taken its place.
Jason Knott, principal at Evansville High School, said vaping wasn’t on his staff’s radar at the beginning of the school year.
Nine months later, the Evansville district has taken extensive steps, including partnering with law enforcement, to get the vaping boom under control.
The use of e-cigarettes and similar technologies is not just a nuisance but a health concern, particularly for young people, Knott said.
What is vaping?
Vaping refers to the use of vaporizers, e-cigarettes or other electronic devices that deliver doses of nicotine-laced vapor instead of smoke.
E-cigarettes and vaping were created as tools to help people quit smoking, said Dr. Dan Beardmore, a pediatrician at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.
Instead of inhaling, those who vape hold the vapor in their mouths and then quickly exhale.
Vaping first emerged in 2004, according to the New York Academy of Sciences, and its popularity has increased significantly in the last five years.
Local school districts started seeing vaping by young people ramp up in the last six months, Knott said.
Vaping mechanisms come in a variety of sizes and have different functions.
A traditional vape has a tank to hold juice and is bulky. E-cigarettes are slender like cigarettes. E-pipes look like traditional pipes but with small tanks.
New to the vaping scene is JUUL, a thin, rechargeable e-cigarette that resembles a USB drive. JUULs use a juice formula with nicotine salt, which has a high concentration of nicotine.
JUULs have become increasingly popular with teenagers younger than 18, said Jen Braun, director of local health coalition Building a Safer Evansville.
The compact design of a JUUL makes it easy for teenagers to conceal it from parents and teachers, she said.
Vape juice, which is heated to produce vapor, comes in a variety of flavors, such as sour cherry, watermelon, chai tea, cotton candy and cinnamon roll.
Braun and Knott cite the enticing flavors and colorful vaping tools as leading reasons why children pick up the habit. Some kids start by doing it with older friends, siblings or even parents, Braun said.
Health and vaping
Research is inconclusive on whether vaping is a foolproof method for smoking cessation, Beardmore said.
Bruce Houchins of Janesville said it works for him. The 56-year-old started smoking cigarettes when he was 12 years old.
He said he took up vaping two months ago in an effort to quit smoking.
“It is by far better for me,” Houchins said. “I don’t know how other people do it.”
Mo Elzofri, an employee at Vape N’ Juice in Janesville, said he stopped smoking cigarettes the day he started vaping. He had smoked for 10 years.
At Vape N’ Juice, workers are trained to make smoking cessation their top priority, Elzofri said. The store does not carry JUUL devices because employees do not want to encourage people to vape because it is “trendy.”
Most vape juice contains nicotine, which is addictive, Beardmore said.
Vape users breathe in fewer carcinogens, chemicals and tar than cigarette smokers, Beardmore said.
However, the aerosol they breathe can include harmful substances, including nicotine, nickel, tin, lead and diacetyl, a chemical linked to lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaping and youth
While vaping might help adults stop smoking, Beardmore said it has negative effects on teenagers and children.
Children who vape are at an increased risk of using cigarettes or marijuana in the future, he said.
E-cigarettes can be modified to use cannabinoid hemp oil, Braun said.
A new vaping trend—dripping—also has Beardmore and other pediatricians concerned. Dripping occurs when users drip e-cigarette oil onto the hot coils of the device to create flavorful smoke.
Burning the liquid makes smoke with a different chemical makeup, making it “much more dangerous for the lungs,” Beardmore said.
Teens who start vaping with no prior smoking experience are becoming addicted to something for no reason, Knott said.
The habit is also expensive, Knott and Beardmore agreed. Knott said one student caught with an e-cigarette at school told Knott he spends about $350 a month on vape juice.
Stopping the boom
This year, it became common for students to vape in bathrooms between classes, Knott said.
Some more daring students did it in the hallways.
Administrators reacted by walking through bathrooms between classes to deter vaping, he said.
Evansville High School, Building a Safer Evansville, the Evansville Police Department and city officials are working together to keep kids from vaping, Knott said.
The city council approved an ordinance in March that prohibits anyone younger than 18 from buying or possessing vapor products. Minors who are caught with vapor products are given a fine of more than $300—comparable to penalties for minors possessing traditional tobacco products, Braun said.
Signs have been put up around the school that say “no smoking, no chew, no tobacco, no vaping.”
Students are already addicted by the time they get to high school, Knott said. The school now is working on vaping prevention programs for middle and elementary schools.
Braun and Knott believe the community is heading in the right direction.
The signs and ordinance changes likely won’t stop those already addicted, but they can deter new users or students who are thinking about it, Knott said.
Vape use in school has dropped since administrators cracked down on vaping.
The key to change is education, primarily for parents, Knott said.
Some parents say they are OK with vaping because “it is better than smoking,” he said. He is concerned that those parents are misinformed about the health effects.
“When parents are talking to their teens about ‘When you go to parties this weekend, remember no smoking, no drinking, no marijuana,’ they need to start remembering ... to ask (about) this, too,” Beardmore said.
“Because if you don’t ask, a teen won’t tell.”