Head in the clouds: Students question vaping habits after reported deaths

Gwyn Skiles and Anne Ribordy

On 1823 Waukegan Rd. sits a small shop brightly lit with red and blue lights. The shelves are lined with shiny delicate hookahs and memorabilia patterned with cannabis leaves. This stimulating atmosphere is no stranger to South students, according to Zee Vaper employee Ronald Woodall*. Vape shops like Zee Vapor are popping up all around the nation, selling their products to millions of high school students. Recently however, 39 deaths have been attributed to vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The spread of vape-related products has seemingly become a new epidemic affecting Generation Z since 28 percent of high schoolers vape, according to Time Magazine.

The Center On Addiction, an organization dedicated to informing the public on the risks of addictive behaviors such as vaping, defines vaping as the act of inhaling aerosol through devices such as e-cigarettes, Juuls, dab pens, vape MODs, electric hookahs, and disposables. When a person vapes, they inhale chemicals such as nicotine; diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead, according to surgeongeneral.gov. As of November 5, there have been roughly 2,051 cases of lung-related disease spawned from vaping according to the CDC.

The appliances mentioned above often lead to physical effects other than the buzz of nicotine, regular vaper, junior Megan Bushman*, illustrated. She highlighted how often the devices she uses sting her throat and make her feel nauseous.

“Vaping can feel different depending on the type [of device] you use,” Bushman said. “With my Juul, I feel nothing in my throat or lungs when I use it. however, when I use the Phix and Sourin Air, it burns my throat a little, and I get the feeling of being buzzed pretty quickly. Sometimes my head will hurt or I’ll feel nauseous if I haven’t had anything to eat or drink.”

Regular vapers such as Bushman have expressed a desire to decrease their usage due to health concerns. Bushman explained how the health risks outweigh the high of being buzzed and cause her to take extra precautions.

“While the thrill of vaping is definitely a bonus, I think the health risks outweigh the thrill,” Bushman confessed. “It’s extremely dangerous, and I think people are finally beginning to realize that, especially after the recent studies. I don’t think vaping is worth the risk of lung cancer, or even death. Since seeing the deaths, I try not to vape as often, and when I see my friends vaping, I try to encourage them to stop.”

It is especially dangerous for young adults and teenagers to vape, Dr. Mona Hirani, a specialist in pediatric pulmonary medicine and adult and pediatric allergy and immunology stressed. She explained how the effects of vaping may be deceiving since lung complications typically occur after use for an extensive period of time.

“We do not see the changes immediately after they start using these products, but over time there is definitely evidence showing that smoking and inhaling any kind of these toxic vapors can do irreversible damage,” Hirani said.

Hirani emphasized how the medical field is scrambling to find the specific source in vape products causing the lung complications. With the legalization of marijuana and the increasing number of vaping deaths ensuing, Hirani said answers are needed so that she can inform her patients.

“It’s definitely awful because the effects have been so disastrous,” Hirani explained. “[As a doctor], you have to stop and brainstorm what you’re going to do here? This is a whole epidemic that is affecting hundreds and thousands of young adults and teenagers. But what exactly is the ingredient in these vaping products that have caused these lung issues is as yet unclear at this point.”

On November 9, The Washington Post published an article raising suspicion for Vitamin E acetate to be the cause of these lung illnesses. Vitamin E acetate has been found in the lungs of patients with vape related illnesses in large quantities, which could be the cause of the lung diseases associated with vape, according to the CDC. With a seemingly new epidemic facing the world, Ron Bean, assistant principal, and dean of students is concerned with the vape culture at South. The number of violations at the beginning of this year is greater than the violations at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Bean explained. He finds this to be concerning for the health of students considering the recent illnesses and deaths attributed to excessive vape usage.

“You would think with the number of deaths nationwide right now and the information that is coming out, you would see a decrease in [vaping], but we haven’t,” Bean emphasized. “I don’t know why it hasn’t decreased, but it’s very concerning for us that it has increased.”

Most students who vape are aware of the recent vape provoked deaths as 23 percent of students at South currently vape and 90 percent of these students are aware of the risks involved, according to an unscientific survey conducted by The Oracle. Even if vapers are aware of the news, junior Ashley Meyer* noted that they are not quitting because worrying about their health later in life is not one of their current priorities.

“I think that many people are still going to continue to vape no matter what,” Meyer said. “For example, one of my friends has a Juul and even though she knows about this news, she is continuing to vape knowing what it will do to her. She says: ‘You only live once.’ That kind of mentality isn’t super healthy.”

Due to the increase in the number of students participating in vape culture at South, the administration has decided to take an active role in preventing multiple offenses from occurring, Bean explained.

“If it’s a nicotine product, that’s a violation of the tobacco policy, so we would confiscate those materials, they would receive a six-hour Saturday detention, and then we refer them to the Glenview Police and they would receive a village citation for possession of tobacco devices,” Bean explained. “If it’s a cartridge or marijuana oil, that’s a violation of Board Policy 8460. Possession and consumption is a 10-day suspension for the first offense and nine weeks of sanctions or loss of privileges including: the ability to park on campus, open lunch, SRT, and attending extracurricular activities.”

In a further attempt to reduce the number of students who vape, the administration has also contracted with a company called Vape Education, Bean said. Students with violations will complete Vape Education’s four to five hour online course that educates students on the dangers of vaping, along with the school’s stated disciplinary consequences.

Yet despite the administration’s efforts to limit vaping, Woodall stressed how 60 to 70 percent of the sales at Zee Vapor are high school students. Woodall explained that students typically buy Juuls including the pods that contain flavorings such as mint, strawberry, and mango. Bean asserted that these products have even found their way to South’s campus.

“You would be surprised at the places we catch kids using electronic cigarettes and vaporizers,” Bean said. “They use them in the bathroom, they will use them in classrooms, they use them in the cafeteria, they use them walking down the hall. People think that we don’t notice when they are using them, and we don’t catch everybody, but people are using them all over the building.”

One student who vapes in the school bathrooms, senior Veronica Nabel*, said that her teachers never notice because she knows how to collect herself and not come off as suspicious. When she was going through a rough time, she said she vaped frequently at school, but now she estimated that she vapes two to three times a week during her classes that do not require her to be attentive.

“I try to only [vape] in classes where I don’t need to be focused like gym,” Nabel said. “It makes [school] more fun and it gives me a stress reliever. It makes me feel relaxed when sometimes I feel like I have anxiety about certain stuff. Also, I kind of have social anxiety so I feel like it calms me down and allows interactions to be more smooth or if they go really bad I can blame it on that.”

Nabel is aware of the deaths linked to vaping products, yet she continues to vape. However, 25 percent of students at South have stopped vaping and 90 percent of these students are aware of the illnesses and deaths stemming from vape usage, and 66 percent of these students were motivated by this information to quit, according to an unscientific survey conducted by The Oracle. Among them is Meyer, who explained how she initially started vaping due to pressure from her friends. Yet, she explained how the uncomfortable burning sensation she felt in her throat while inhaling and the potential health risks inspired her withdrawal.

“In my experience, I tried a Juul because I was curious and not really knowing the effects” Meyer said. “But then I realized that I didn’t like it so I stopped and it was that easy for me. So I think that if [quitting] is that easy for somebody else, then they can try it so that they don’t make mistakes later.”

Unlike many of their peers, Bushman and Meyer both said they have refrained from vaping at school. Meyer explained that she primarily used to vape either in the car or at her friends’ houses. She said that it was not hard for her to stop socially, as her friends have accepted her decision.

“A lot of the times it will happen if we’re in the car driving somewhere,” Meyer said. “Somebody will offer it or if we’re hanging out in somebody’s basement. We don’t usually do it if we’re hanging out in somebody’s basement because it smells, so it will happen if we’re in the car going somewhere and if they offer it I just say ‘no thanks’.”

Woodall emphasized how the recent news reports have also decreased the number of sales at Zee Vapor by roughly 60-70 percent.

“In July we made nearly 700k ($700,000) in this store but last month we made only 15k ($15,000). [Our sales] are decreasing because of the news,” Woodall explained.

Even though students are aware of the health risks, Meyer explained that the curiosity and desire to vape still remains. She recommended that students who are unable to contain such curiosity try vaping in a secure environment to avoid potential risks in an environment they’re unfamiliar with.

“If somebody is curious, I think that it’s better to try it in a small situation with friends rather than at a party with something that could possibly be more dangerous,” Meyer said. “But as a whole, I do not recommend vaping.”

*Names have been changed