A Rise in Student Vaping

Data is from a recent anonymous survey of RCHS students. Chart created by Arden Courtney Collins.

Data is from a recent anonymous survey of RCHS students. Chart created by Arden Courtney Collins.

Arden Courtney Collins, Reporter

Is vaping a deadly habit corrupting America’s youth? Or is it simply a harmless pastime? To answer these questions, one needs to know what vaping is. Vapes are electronic devices that are used to inhale aerosol comprised of various components like nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. 

According to the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, the first commercially successful vape was created by Hon Lik, in 2003. Lik was a heavy smoker and wanted to find an alternative way to quit smoking, without using something like nicotine patches or gum. The solution he came up with was e-cigarettes. 

Thus, vapes were intended to help people addicted to nicotine quit smoking. This original goal does not line up with the reality we see today. Instead of people being weaned off of smoking with vapes, more young people, who would not have started smoking otherwise, are now picking up vapes and trying them. Vaping among the youth has increased by 900% according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Young users get attracted by flavors, low prices, and the belief that vapes are safer. Many of these young people may even start using tobacco products later on. 

Many young people here in Rockbridge County have taken up vaping. In a recent poll at RCHS, almost 50% of those polled said they had vaped before. The number could very well be higher, as it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to obtain a vape in Virginia. That means every single student who anonymously answered ‘yes’ to that poll was breaking the law. About 23% of those surveyed admitted to vaping at school, which both distracts them from their education and is obviously against school rules. 15% of the student body claims to vape regularly, which, as you’ll soon see could put their health in serious jeopardy. What is driving these kids to vape if they are putting their health, education, and freedom in danger? The answer: nicotine addiction. 

Vapes have become the epitome of a perverse result. Instead of vapes helping smokers kick their nicotine addiction, vapes are being used to foster new nicotine addictions. Irony aside, are vapes dangerous? That’s a harder question to answer than you might think.

While it is almost certain that vapes are safer than traditional cigarettes, no one really knows just how safe they are. Vapes work by heating up a mix of nicotine, chemicals, and flavorings to create the water vapor. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical and can alter teen brain development. Some vapes don’t have nicotine, but the ones that do can have up to the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette, if not more. Another problem with the situation is that the other chemicals in vapes are still undetermined. Some chemicals, like propylene glycol, are safe when used as a food sweetener or in makeup, but inhaling it is a very different story, and it is uncharted territory. No one knows the long term effects of vaping either. 

In the past few weeks over 800 cases of vaping related illnesses, hospitalizations and even deaths have been reported. According to an article published by the New York Times, these problems are likely related to THC in vape cartridges. But even then, there are many variables and questions still surrounding these incidents. For now, no one knows for sure exactly why this is happening. In the meantime, as more and more cases come to light, we are left with a lot of unanswered questions. 

So, what’s the moral of the story? Young people vaping, besides being slightly ironic, will probably not end well for them. However, it’s hard to know for sure. Not much is known about vaping’s impact on health. Back in the day, people thought smoking expanded your lung capacity, so who knows what the future might bring. In the meantime though, vaping is potentially damaging to your health and, if you are underage, illegal. Doing so puts you at great personal risk.