I remember when I was in middle school, and a few students were caught vaping in the bathroom. Word quickly spread around the school, all of us flabbergasted that people would actually vape. Now that I’ve spent almost 4 years in high school, this occurrence suddenly feels normal – and it shouldn’t. Leigh’s vaping problem is out of control, and it is time that the school does something about it.
As reported in a study from the National Institute for Drug Abuse in 2018, over 37% of 12th graders have used a vape product or e-cigarette in their lifetime. This was up from 27.8% in 2017. Additionally, the CDC has reported that over 80% of the tobacco products used by high schoolers were flavored.
Leigh High School is by no means immune to this epidemic, and one of my greatest concerns is the normalcy this is all treated with. Although students complain to each other about the vaping problem, it is usually shrugged off. It’s almost as though we’re saying “teenagers are going to vape and there’s no use in trying to stop it.”
It goes without saying that nicotine is dangerous for development. JUUL – one of the most popular e-cigarette companies – has indicated that one cartridge contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes. Yale Medicine does acknowledge that e-cigarettes can be used to gradually help adults stop smoking. However, they also noted that exposure to nicotine can cause permanent brain damage, especially for those under the age of 25. Nicotine, including consistent exposure to secondhand smoke, also has a strong link to lung cancer.
In addition, many Leigh students vape inside the bathroom stalls during lunch and passing periods. This often results in a long and backed-up bathroom line, all because students are vaping in most (if not all) of the stalls. While many teachers do allow students to go during class, others ironically say we should have gone during the passing period. This is quite frustrating for well-intended students who simply need to use the restroom.
We can have countless “Don’t do drugs” presentations, we can call in guest speakers with tragic backstories, and host all the “anti-drug” awareness weeks we want. While the message may be nice, they are not solving any problems. Kids who use tobacco products don’t pay attention and aren’t going to change their ways at the drop of a hat. Peer pressure is a root cause of vaping. Students encourage each other to pick up these dangerous habits, and at this age teenagers are often more trusting of each other than a random adult with a suit, microphone, and tragic backstory. It’s the unfortunate reality we’re up against. However, that doesn’t negate our responsibility as a school community to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment.
I think the tobacco industry carries quite a bit of this blame; flavored vapes have almost no function aside from catering to kids. However, Leigh High School needs to do better. Students should not be forced to inhale secondhand smoke every time they enter the bathroom, and students who vape need to be held accountable for their actions.
Information gathered from the National Institute for Drug Abuse, Yale School of Medicine, and Cancer.gov