A junior at Poly High School who did not want to be named holds his e-cigarette. Photo by Luis Sanchez.
A 17-year-old senior at Polytechnic High School said he first tried e-cigarettes in middle school. It became a bigger habit in the ninth grade.
“This is my last day,” he said on a table outside of class on school grounds, explaining that he’s quitting vaping so he can prevent himself from becoming sick after hearing that his habit could be deadly.
“I was surrounded by it growing up,” the senior, who did not want to be named, later said by text. “I know this is bad but it used to get my mind off my issues. It just helped me be in a better place, mental wise.” He usually vaped in school bathrooms in passing periods.
The senior is one of various students who admit to vaping on campus, which has become more common on school grounds. Michael Gray, a Polytechnic High School health counselor and head of the school’s Care Center, surveyed about 300 students and found that 12% of those students smoke e-cigarettes or cigars. “Vaping is a big deal and 12% of the 300 is a lot,” said Gray. “Imagine [surveying] the whole school? It will increase by a lot!”
2,051 lung injuries from vaping have been reported as of Nov. 5, according to the Center for Disease Control, and 34 deaths have been confirmed in 24 states. The CDC reports that 14% of the users that were sent to the hospital were under 18 years old.
Lung injuries can arise from the vapor containing nicotine that damages lungs and can cause cancer or asthma, according to the American Physiological Society. The nicotine in the e-cigarettes can also cause learning difficulties, addiction, and changes to the way your brain works to make it harder to quit.
Some brands and users have more than just nicotine in their e-cigarettes, sometimes without knowing. Some add substances like tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol oils, or CBD, and other substances and additives, according to the CDC. THC is the mind-altering compound of marijuana that makes you high.
A senior attending Poly High School shows off his vape pen outside of his home.
Jeremiah, a 16-year-old junior on the Poly High student council, said he and other council members have placed ads in school bathrooms to make people aware of how vaping can negatively impact one’s health.
“I do really care about people’s health,” Jeremiah said. “Sometimes students would use it in class in secret when the teacher leaves.”
Gray, the school counselor, said that addictions are usually rooted in how one feels about themself.
“We spend all this money on interventions when we should be putting more of our effort in daily mental illness skill,” he said.
Gray added that there are helpful professionals at the school’s Care Center and programs for people hoping to quit smoking. Care Center volunteers tell students the causes and effects of vaping and where they can go if they need help.
However, their efforts to curb student smoking haven’t been too successful.
”We are just putting general information. That [is] all we can do,” Gray said, adding more work is needed to prevent vaping from growing and becoming a bigger problem.