By CHRIS CHAE
Juuling. Puffing. Chiefing. The explosive popularity of vaping has taken control over the nation with more than 20% of high school students reporting that they vaped in 2018 according to Kaiser Health News. Yet despite the 380 possible cases of the mysterious pulmonary illness across 36 states and six cases that resulted in death in patients with a history of vaping, the numbers keep rising.
Vaping is the act of using electronic cigarettes to “vaporize” nicotine combined with other liquid substances. The initial purpose of the product was to inhale nicotine without the risks of burning tobacco and for awhile, cigarette addicts used the vapes as a stepping stone in their path to quitting. However, with the addition of flavor combinations and chemical compounds, the vape quickly evolved into something more sinister.
Before we go any further, let’s lay some context about the consequences of vaping. The nicotine in cigarettes and e-cigarettes are toxic and raise your blood pressure and spikes your adrenaline, increasing heart rate and thus the likelihood of having a heart attack. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 54 deaths in patients with vaping product use associated with lung injury. E-cigarettes are JUST as addictive as traditional cigarettes, with research suggesting that it may be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Originally, e-cigarettes were meant to be a weaker form of the regular cigarette; however, with extra-strength cartridges, and the increase of times people tend to “hit” vapes has lead to an understanding that vapes are just as dangerous if not more so than the regular cigarette.
So if vaping is so bad for the body, why do high schoolers do it so much?
The answer is simple. They’re insecure.
Exploring the years of growth and vulnerability, many high schoolers find faults in their own self-identity. In a time of unparalleled emotional insecurity, many young adults try to escape stress, depression, or anxiety and demonstrate control over their lives by boasting their maturity, edginess, or independence. There are positive forms of stress relief in sports or self-directed projects, but some, especially those at UNI HIGH choose the toxic path of vaping. Either way, I took it to the streets, and most importantly the school bathrooms, to ask people why they vape.
The most common answer I received from known vapers was “because all my friends did it.” I found this answer to be very sad. Too ignorant and weak-willed to make their own decisions, many students decide to conform to warped societal norms and follow their friends’ choices. Unable to form a solid positive foundation for their own values, many students chase after what other people have and long to desire. When vapes are linked with looking cool on social media, being viewed as dangerous or sexy, and linked to fun parties and social status, it is very hard for these disillusioned students to resist the toxic temptation. But when that thing we admire is, in reality, killing you inside and outside, one must step back and rethink their choices and path in life. Do you really want to be a side character that has no identity or someone who carves their own path to be someone meaningful?
The next most common answer I got was that they were “curious about how it felt.” Given that Health education is a required course in high school, all vapers should understand at a basic level the dangers of vaping. If they do know, then they only have themselves to blame for falling prey to a dangerous trap that they already have been warned about. There are so many other things in life to be curious about and pursue that doesn’t actively try to harm your own body. But possibly, not knowing the dangers of vaping may be even worse. Blindly chasing after curiosity without any knowledge or blindly following your friends is a mindset that will lead to bigger problems in the real world when mommy and daddy aren’t there to save you.
But we can’t fully blame the incompetence of insecure students. A huge part of vaping is the encouragement by big vape companies and societal pressure. For its launch in 2015, JUUL spends more than $1 million to market the product on the internet says Truth Initiative. With the ads that associated JUUL with being cool, having fun, relaxation, freedom, and sex appeal, it is not a surprise that young foolish teens would be attracted to these ideals. They also introduce new and exciting flavors that target the youth. A student at UNI testifies “banana ice fresh as hell.” Lured in by these flavors, many students agree that flavors add to the experience in a positive way for them and make them enjoy the “feeling of headrush” even more. In a broader sense, a study of middle and high school students found that 43% of young people who ever used e-cigarettes tried them because of appealing flavors. Vape companies also repeatedly deny the links to respiratory problems. Gregory Conley, President of the American Vaping Association says that “e-cigarettes are not dangerous” and instead relates the injuries to “something else is going on- a black market.” A dangerous combination of encouragement by big vape companies and societal pressures to look cool have spiraled out of control in creating the vaping epidemic that has taken over high schools nationwide- and UNI HIGH is no exception.
But it’s not too late to save yourself. Many students who at first gave into vaping have now escaped from its trap and are now living a nicotine-free life. A student testified that she gave it up after learning about the “negative health effects affecting her performance in sports” and another quit after “realizing how dependent he was getting on it and he didn’t want to see him spend his whole life tied down by vaping.” There are definite ways to get out if you have the will for it, and there are resources to help you, such as the school counselors.
There are alternate and real solutions to solving problems and overcoming insecurity than resorting to the toxic trap of vaping. Try to look past the surface level pleasure and into the long term effects. Be aware of yourself and others. Don’t do dumb things for dumb reasons. We only have one life, let’s make the most of it.