FATAL FAD

Nicotine administering devices such as vapes, Juuls, and Suorin Airs are a rising trend among teenagers across the country. Midland High has had to adapt to the increase in these devices through punishment, education, and a student action group. News Editor Mady Sherman| Exchange Editor Maureen Aloff | Copy Editor Aubrey Chambers


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Nicotine administering devices such as vapes, Juuls, and Suorin Airs are a rising trend among teenagers across the country. Midland High has had to adapt to the increase in these devices through punishment, education, and a student action group. News Editor Mady Sherman| Exchange Editor Maureen Aloff | Copy Editor Aubrey Chambers

This generation would never think to light a cigarette. Growing up surrounded by ads that show the gory, harsh reality of being a smoker has proved to be effective in keeping kids from looking for nicotine in a traditional cigarette. Instead, teenagers are trying their hand at the newly trending e-cigarettes, vapes, and most commonly the Juul. These new devices are alluring to teenagers because of their accessibility, size, and often candy-like flavors; however, this trend is quickly turning into a national debate because of the unknown health effects and loose regulations.

Although the technology is rather new, the use of electronic cigarettes by minors is a misdemeanor. The Food and Drug Administration enacted a regulation in 2016 that banned the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine to those younger than 18. However, because Michigan has no state law affirming that regulation, law enforcement cannot keep teenagers from purchasing the nicotine-delivery devices. This has led to a spike in student use of these devices and has contributed to a vaping problem at Midland High School.

“Hopefully it’s just a fad that we’ll eventually just put in the rear view window,” Assistant Principal Bob Scurfield said. “But these kids that might live perfectly healthy lives are choosing to do this whether it’s to fit in with their peers or just try something new–that’s the part that scares me.”

The Midland High School Student Handbook says: “Use or possession of tobacco, drugs or alcohol, electronic cigarettes/vapes, drugs or alcohol in any form is not permitted at any time on the school grounds or at any schoolsponsored event.” Scurfield said that generally if a student is caught with a vape or Juul they are suspended for three days, but it usually depends on the student and their number of offenses.

Senior Mason Frost started vaping in the eighth grade after one was offered to him by some of his wrestling teammates. Later in the same year he was found with a vape pen in his possession at Northeast Middle School, where he was given a few days of detention and a verbal warning to not vape again in the future. Frost said that his punishment didn’t scare him away from vaping and he has been doing it since, but recently decided to quit.

“Before I went into basic training for the National Guard, I was constantly doing it, but when I first started training it was all cut off,” Frost said. “When I didn’t have it I went through withdrawal and had headaches, so when I got back I realized I couldn’t go without it. I was definitely addicted to nicotine, I got mad easily all of the time; I constantly wanted it so I made a decision to stop. When I started using it again, I had a terrible cough and I just couldn’t get rid of it, and I knew the only way I could make it stop was if I quit vaping.”

Frost said that he has vaped in school and knows several other students who have as well. Vaping and Juuling in the classroom have become a particular problem for welding teacher Corey Pawlak, where the welding booths in his workshop are walled off, private, and have their own ventilation system in order to combat the smoke created during class. Many students take advantage of these features and, on average, Pawlak said he catches five students every year vaping or Juuling in his class.

“I know that it happens everyday, it would be very naive to think that it doesn’t,” Pawlak said. “It started with e-cigarettes, then to the big box-mod vapes. I think it really has increased with the Juul and the Suorin Air because they are so much easier to hide. I think students are doing it more because it’s easier to get away with.”

Pawlak has his own punishment on top of the district punishment. Once the student returns from suspension, they can’t return to the welding shop for another week. He said that as a teacher he feels disrespected and takes it personally when he catches people vaping and he often feels betrayed.

“It’s like a slap in the face [when I catch them]; they don’t respect the trust they are given,” Pawlak said. “I don’t get it, I don’t understand the want or the hype of it, but I know kids do it because of the rebellion, the feeling of doing something they’re not supposed to be doing is just as attractive, if not more, than the feeling they get from the nicotine.”

In addition to the punishment MHS administers, the school is trying to teach students about these electronic devices and the potential harm they may have. Health teacher Emily Downing has dedicated part of the health curriculum to teaching her students what the dangers of vaping are. “We just approach it as the basic stuff-we find statistics and present them to the students. Unfortunately there is not a whole lot out there as far as long term results; we are really just guessing,” Downing said. “I think students are becoming more educated as things hit the news more, but at the beginning of the year students did not know as much information and the class has definitely opened the eyes of so many students.”

Downing said that when she teaches the students about vapes, she likes to see what the students know and want to know about vaping, and that a lot of the learning is through student-led discussion. Downing hopes that more research will be done in the near future so she can expand the curriculum hopefully use concrete statistics to help solidify student’s knowledge of vaping’s long-term effects. Additionally, she said that with the limited amount of resources available, Midland Public Schools is teaching and doing everything to the best of their ability.

“I feel like you can never educate people enough on these subjects, and I really do think it is something that we will have to implement into our substance abuse program a lot more as the years go on. I don’t think this is something that will go away quickly,” Downing said.

Downing also believes that devices like Juuls are a problem at MHS because of how they are advertised to teenagers specifically. She said that she hopes that her teachings will curve students away from these devices, but in the long run it is the students who need to advise and educate their peers against these devices.

“Any product is going to have some kind of market, and teens are definitely the market for Juuls; in fact, I think teens are the only target,” Downing said. “If the student body were to present a project or statistics it would mean a lot more coming from the same age group. Unfortunately I don’t have as big of an impact.”

Starting this week Senior Erin Vokal and the anti-vaping committee she is a part of will launch their campaign to educate students on what vaping is and the dangers behind it. This committee has been planning since September, and hopes to create an awareness campaign similar to Project 111.

“We worked with Mrs. Albright through leadership class and we sent out the survey, we also have been planning posters, announcements, a video, and a song to make students more knowledgeable on the subject,” Vokal said. “After doing research and now that I know more, it is important [to me] that people know the health effects of vaping, it is very important for people to understand there is a danger. Even though it is not as dangerous as a cigarette, there are still cancer-causing chemicals.”

Vokal said that she has noticed Juul and similar companies targeting teenagers by sponsoring teenagers to promote their product on social media, which further contributes to the rampant use of vaping by teens. Vokal recognizes the problem vaping has become for teens. She believes that this is just the beginning of the efforts at MHS to combat vaping, and hopes that the awareness will continue to spread.

“I think that we need to keep gradually talking about it. It’s not something that can be solved in a year and it’s very new so we don’t know the long-term effects yet; it’s not a fad,” Vokal said. “We want to bring this to other schools in the area and we are working with the Legacy Center on trying to come up with a program that is not just for MHS, but can go all the way to middle schools and throughout Michigan.”

The rise in use of vapes, Juuls, and other devices has also changed the business and economics side of the industry. Pom Jiang, owner of Vapes and Tobacco in Saginaw, has noticed an increase in popularity in the past few years of Juuls and other vape products since he became owner of the store two years ago. Jiang said that it is illegal to sell to minors, and that he checks the ID of everyone that enters the store.

“When I first opened the store I accidentally sold to a minor,” Jiang said. “When I read his ID I looked at the month and year but not the day, and he was a few weeks away from 18. I had to pay a $1,000 fine, but ever since I am very careful when I check IDs.”

Jiang said that despite the laws and regulations on minors and their accessibility to Juuls, he knows that often teenagers will have legal adults buy these devices for them, and he has even had parents bring their kids into the shop with them so the parent could purchase the devices for their child.

“Sometimes I will even have grandparents buy for their underaged kids,” Jiang said. “Soon cities will start raising the age restriction on tobacco and vape products to 21 years old and I think this is good, I don’t think kids should be doing things like vaping.” Frost said getting access to vapes has always been easy for him. He used to buy his devices off of other teenagers, but after receiving his National Guard ID, he uses it to buy from stores.

“The age is on the back but it is really small, so people would think if I was in the military that I should be 18 so I could just walk into a store if I had it lay it on the counter and buy whatever I want,”

Frost said. “The buying process is pretty easy and the people are nice, I think they sell to a lot of underaged people not knowing it. Some stores won’t even check IDs. As long as you look 18 you can basically buy from anywhere; if you know the people there and they you know you vape they will let you buy.”

Frost said that he wishes there were more resources available to students that are addicted to nicotine and would like to quit.

“I think my life has been negatively impacted by vaping. Everyone around me disapproves; my dad has gotten to the point where he just doesn’t care,” Frost said. “People don’t really want to help you. If you want to quit they don’t help, they just say ‘okay good luck’ and they leave you alone. I tried to stop two years ago but I couldn’t because I didn’t know where to go.” The health effects of Juuls and vapes are widely unknown. Little research has been done and Scurfield believes that teens often act based on what is trending and how it makes them appear socially. “My concern is for teenagers at a young age that put things into their body that they don’t know if in ten or twenty years what that means, similar to what they didn’t realize about cigarettes in the 50s and 60s,” Scurfield said.

Physician’s Assistant Beccalynne Carson from Midland Family Physicians does not think that teenagers understand the consequences of using nicotine. “There are many potential toxic chemical substances in e-cigarettes,”

Carson said. “Vaping can also be harmful by exposing users to harmful levels of nicotine. At high doses, vaping can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cardiac problems, possible seizures and breathing problems.”

Carson discussed how vaping and nicotine use can be detrimental not only to the body, but to the brain as well.

“Teenagers are still developing synapses, or connections, in their brains which are more susceptible to forming addictions,” Carson said. “The use of e-cigarettes raises the risk of establishing nicotine dependence in new users, which could lead to tobacco use as well.”

Carson also believes that e-cigarette and vape companies do more harm than good because they are advertise themselves as “cool and safe” alternatives to smoking and appeal to teenagers especially.

“No long term studies have been done yet to suggest that this is a safe form of nicotine use,” Carson said.

Downing hopes that in the future that the popularity of these devices will fade and that people will be more educated on the subject and teens will be able to make smart decisions for themselves.

“Curiosity is always there for a high school student and I hope they are able to stop and think before they make a choice,” Downing said. “I hope it’s a trend that fades quickly because these students are young and they have so much potential and to see that cut short over something so stupid would be tragic.”

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FATAL FAD