In a Fog: An In-Depth Look at Teen Vaping
March 11, 2019
“The first time I vaped was probably freshman year,” explained Addison Harel (10).
“Honestly, [I started vaping] just to try it and after a while, I would try to learn tricks ‘cause they looked cool. But then I realized it was probably bad for me.”
Harel, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity along with those of all the other students quoted in this article, is a sophomore at Livermore High School and has not vaped in nearly five months. This is, in part, due to the help of her mom. Once Harel’s mom found out that her daughter was vaping, she was mad, but eventually helped Harel to stop.
“I feel like [since stopping vaping] I’ve changed, ‘cause I never understood why it was hard for people who had addictions to stop,” explained Harel. “Now I kinda have some understanding.”
Harel does not particularly agree with the way that adults and school officials deal with vaping among teenagers.
“I feel like [adults] shake you for it and make you feel bad, like some kids [at LHS] genuinely actually have problems with this addiction ‘cause of all the nicotine they’re inhaling.”
According to the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District’s 2017-2018 California Healthy Kids Survey results, 72% of 11th graders and 67% of 9th graders believe it is very easy or fairly easy to obtain e-cigarettes or vaping devices. The survey also reveals that 29% of LVJUSD 11th graders and 19% of 9th graders admit they have tried e-cigarettes or other vaping devices.
“I don’t want to be naive, but I truly think it’s affected and impacted everybody — AP students, athletes, every type of student,” shared LHS Vice Principal Tom Fletcher.
The administration has been catching vaping students since last year “certainly weekly, probably even daily.”
Fletcher discussed the prevalence of student vaping — in the hallways and bathrooms. Students even cough into their sleeves in order to hide the vapor in class.
He often monitors the bathrooms in the 300, 400, and 500 buildings to deter vape users.
“I started going to the 300 bathroom and being like, ‘No one’s gonna be vaping in here today because I’m literally standing in the bathroom.’”
As for his opinion on the health effects of vaping, Fletcher said, “This is the test generation. They are the test subjects.” This is because vaping and e-cigarettes are fairly new and the health risks accompanying these products are still being researched and speculated about.
Alice Davis (12) started vaping to relate to her peers. Davis’ friend’s boyfriend was the one who supplied her with a Phix (a vaping device), a charger, and a pod.
After she vaped the first time, she was light-headed and her throat burned. But she stuck with it because friends said her tolerance would increase.
“Once I started getting into the habit of it, I brought it to school, in class, bathrooms just like everyone else.”
“The first hit of the day hits you hard. At night you can’t get any buzz because basically, your tolerance gets higher and higher.”
Davis used the vaping products Juul, Phix, and Sourin. Some of her pod flavors were strawberry, mango, mint, and cucumber.
“Your hair is complete [expletive]. You just don’t feel good about yourself. You feel down all the time,” said Davis regarding the effects of vaping.
Davis explained, “One night I was really angry and hitting it calmed me down. I was hitting and hitting and got ‘nic sick.’ A guy I was talking to said ‘nicotine’s not gonna solve all your problems’ and it was a huge wake-up call.”
Davis has been vape-free for over six months. She stopped associating with people who were vaping.
“The paranoia’s away. It’s so much better not to have it.”
Davis was particularly worried about her mom finding out and said she had to be sneaky about indulging in the habit.
She discussed the challenge of getting away from vaping but said that it takes baby steps like replacing her pods with non-nicotine pods, to wean herself off nicotine. However, she said she heard that non-nicotine juice can cause popcorn lung.
“In 30 to 50 years, half this generation is gonna have lung cancer, reproductive issues, and other health issues,” said Davis.
Davis said she “210% supports” those who want to distance themselves from their vaping habit.
She believes companies target teenagers because the pods are often the flavors kids grew up with, like mango and creme brulee.
Doreen Aubel, a Granada High School Peer Educator Advisor, also believes that vape companies target teenagers.
“The companies market their products as being a healthy alternative and promote how the device can be used discreetly. Teenagers are targeted by adding fruity flavors and creative names to their flavors in order to entice the teens to try their product,” Aubel said.
“The new devices like Juul and Sourin look like slick tech devices and many students have the perception that they are harmless.”
“Unfortunately, vape devices have many of the same chemicals as cigarettes and contain much more nicotine than regular cigarettes,” continued Aubel.
“One Juul pod contains the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.”
There are 20 cigarettes in a pack.
Abbie Becker (11) vaped for the first time during her freshman year of high school.
“I just wanted to try it,” Becker explained. “But when I did it a lot my lungs would get tired more.”
Becker said she has vaped at school, but never worried about getting caught. She also stated that she was never particularly worried about the effects vaping could potentially have on her health.
Becker does not particularly disagree with the way school staff deal with student vaping, either.
“I think adults deal with it the right way, but some are too harsh,” said Becker.
“Vaping isn’t the worst thing for you — and it’s a lot better than some of the other things we could be doing.”
LHS Vice Principal Valerie Nebo, who has been working in the school district since the 2003-2004 school year, mentioned that students are caught vaping at LHS at least “a couple times a week.”
Nebo said, “It’s pretty widespread at this point, to the extent that we’re even hearing word from middle schools about students who are vaping, so it definitely expands beyond high school.”
“[Vaping] had been kind of a gradual thing with the advent of vape devices. I think we definitely saw a big uptick with deregulation and legislation that was passed that really limited our ability and the ability of the police to be able to take action against… vaping.”
Nebo continued, “There were laws that were passed that didn’t really clearly define who was responsible for what regarding youth use of these products and also the products, themselves, outpaced legislation.”
There are various forms of intervention that school administrators implement for an LHS student’s first vaping “offense.” This is because, as Nebo explained, administrators want to find out the root of the behavior.
“There is a lot of research that suggests that just punitive measures aren’t gonna support a student in various forms, that goes beyond vaping,” Nebo explained.
Nebo continued, “It’s really about what we can do to educate students, help support them, understand the choices they are making, in a way that is productive.”
Nebo also mentioned that the District tries to educate students and their parents on vaping among adolescents.
“This really is about students making healthy choices for themselves. There’s no longitudinal study about the effects of vaping. The claim that it’s safe is the same claim that was made about cigarettes,” Nebo said.
“The person who pays the price is the user. Students who are choosing to vape right now are choosing to be a part of that ‘study.’ They’re not getting compensated for it and, in fact, will eventually pay the price.”
Nebo continued, “That’s the part that really angers and saddens me in my role in trying to make sure that students are growing up to have long, healthy, productive lives. I’m working against a pretty big, well-funded industry that doesn’t really care about that.”
Jaqueline Carpenter (12) vaped for the first time during her freshman year. Carpenter usually vapes around two times a week, but still notices that her body feels different than when she first tried it.
“My breathing is a lot heavier when I exercise,” Carpenter explained.
“I have worried [about getting caught]; that’s why I don’t do it as often anymore,” she continued. “I do not vape at school. I do it only when I’m with my friends outside of school.”
Carpenter also said she disagrees with the way vaping is dealt with by adults in the school district.
“[They should] maybe not care as much — like don’t try so hard to catch kids. Let parents find out themselves and deal with it.”
Carpenter added, “Some parents don’t care.”
At a recent board meeting, the LVJUSD unanimously passed Resolution No. 033-18/19, the Student Health Initiative in Support of Tobacco-free and Vaping-free Schools and Communities.
The Resolution reads, “LVJUSD educators and health professionals recognize the importance of education that supports the prevention of tobacco use in order to help prevent tobacco-related illnesses, and understand the best way to prevent tobacco-related illnesses is to keep youth from starting to smoke or use tobacco products.”
Like Aubel, the District made it clear in the Resolution that they believe the tobacco industry targets young people by “mask[ing] the harsh taste and odor of tobacco with flavors highly appealing to youth (e.g. bubble gum, cotton candy, grape, gummy bear, chocolate chip cookie).”
The District hopes to curb adolescent use of tobacco use through student participation with Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) efforts.
Per the Resolution, the District says it will also “take all practical and necessary steps to discourage students from smoking including forbidding the use of tobacco products and vaping devices on campuses and during any school-related activities, and by providing student education and family information on the dangers of tobacco and vaping use.”
The Resolution noted LVJUSD’s annual California Healthy Kids Survey from 2017-2018 in order to explain their reasons for fighting vaping.
Along with efforts by the district to combat vaping, LVJUSD Superintendent Kelly Bowers explained that parents within the Livermore community are working to combat teenage vaping, as well. In fact, three Livermore mothers began a community group called “Flavors Hook Kids-Livermore” a few months ago in order to combat teen vaping.
Bowers explained, “When [Flavors Hook Kids-Livermore] learned about many cities in the Bay Area banning flavored tobacco products and related paraphernalia, they connected with local anti-tobacco advocates, including the Alameda County Public Health Department, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition for Health Against Tobacco, and Breathe California.”
“Since then, they have been communicating with Mayor Marchand, the City Council, Axis Community Health, and are now working with our local PTAs and student groups,” continued Bowers.
Teenage vaping has become such a hot-button issue that there will be a City Council meeting on March 11, 2019, addressing the topic.
Cameron Dougherty (10) is a student at GHS. She vaped for the first time during the first trimester of her freshman year.
Dougherty started vaping just to try it and now vapes continuously — using her Novo device at least two or three times a day.
Dougherty enjoys vaping, especially doing tricks with the vapor. She also mentioned that vaping has helped her to de-stress, and has ultimately made her less stressed since she began doing it.
Dougherty has noticed that vaping has taken a toll on her physical health, though. Although she is quite athletic, she can no longer run at fast speeds without it losing her breath and getting occasional lung pains.
She said, “Sometimes I get pains in the temples of my head and I get shaky and tired after I hit [the vape pen.]”
Dougherty also knows that she can just use her vape outside of school. She does it either at her house or a friend’s house and has not been caught by her parents.
“I don’t need to hide [my vape and pods] hard; I usually just throw them in a drawer.”
Dougherty believes that a large number of students at her school vape, when they have the money to do so. She said that depending on where someone is buying their equipment, costs can range from $35 to $48 per week. Most people, Dougherty claims, buy things online or in a physical smoke shop.
“I think [administrators] shouldn’t give [students who vape] that harsh a punishment or take their vape away because, either way, kids are still gonna do it,” explained Dougherty. “I think [the reason] people start vaping in high school is to either come off as ‘cool,’ just for fun, or because they’ve been influenced or are around it a lot.
Dougherty also believes that if someone wants to quit vaping, they will do it by themselves.
“I think that kids quitting is something they should go through or think about themselves,” says Dougherty.
“I personally think that if an administrator or supervisor tried talking to me or a lot of kids about stopping and all that, they wouldn’t listen or think anything of it. Sure, they’ll think about it, but they wouldn’t quit altogether.”
Dougherty added, “I think about stopping a lot and I do so for long periods of time. I just always end up going back to it.”
The district’s main intervention program meant to address tobacco use and vaping in LVJUSD students is the Tobacco Use Prevention Education program. Known as “TUPE,” the program has undergone several changes through the past five years, according to Fletcher.
Scott Vernoy, LVJUSD Student Director, shared the basics of TUPE that include site coordinators for $2,400, CalSCHLS surveys for grade 7, 9, 11, peer education for students, staff development conferences, intervention training, $500 site coordinator supplies, and individual and group counseling for hours every other week.
While Vernoy stated that funding is open-ended and there are applications online, several sources including Fletcher and Vice Principal Brett Christopher revealed TUPE has faced funding cutbacks and the counselor took a job as an academic counselor at Granada.
“The structure was scaled back. We would love to see it come back,” said Fletcher on TUPE.
Besides the TUPE program, Christopher discussed the various options for students who vape.
LHS counselors are trained to handle brief intervention counseling. Students can also be referred to Horizons Community Counseling and Project Eden for intensive drug and substance abuse issues.
Confiscated vaping products are collected by SRO (School Resource Officer) Rios where they are taken to the Livermore Police Department (LPD). LPD then gets more information and data on vaping in Livermore.
Christopher, a former teacher, said on class vaping, “It’s pretty obvious when students leave. It smells like dirty fruit.”
LHS teacher, Tyler Eelsing, is the LHS TUPE counselor who has been working with students to create peer education. The students act as TUPE Ambassadors.
“It’s [TUPE] to train and educate peers on the effects of tobacco, misconceptions of vaping, and overall tobacco.”
Eelsing shared that it is more effective for students to deliver the vaping message. The peer education should be implemented within the next few months.
Any students interested in becoming a peer educator can sign up.
Video Production Teacher Gabe Castro is also working on a public service announcement with his students.
Health Teacher Tim Connors said he discusses tobacco use in the health class curriculum, including the less well-known consequences of smoking, such as excess phlegm or mucus in the lungs. “We talk about all tobacco and debate the good vs. the bad.”
Connors also has direct experience with teen vaping — his TA was vaping underneath a desk and, when caught, was immediately removed from his assignment.
“[Vaping] has consumed a lot of our administrative time,” stated LHS Principal Vicki Scudder.
Scudder sent out a newsletter to parents on vaping in an attempt to help them understand the scope of the problem. Teachers have also been informed as, Scudder said, this can happen “sometimes under our noses.”
Scudder said that GHS has a team of students presenting the vaping issue to students. A similar program is in the works with leadership students at LHS.
“If we make it like cat and mouse — you know, ‘can Mr. Fletcher catch me vaping’ – that’s kinda immature,” explained Scudder.
Scudder said she hopes that “People can see there’s no good news around this and become self-aware and health conscious.”
As of now, LHS administration is continuing to take “many avenues of communication” to help educate parents, teachers, and students on the dangers of vaping.
A survey conducted by The Torch at the LHS Expo Night on Feb. 20 asked parents if they believe vaping is an issue among high schoolers in general and if they take any parental precautions to prevent their children from vaping.
For both questions, 26/28 parents (around 93% of them) answered yes.
Parent Araceli Arretche stated, “There needs to be more assemblies and consequences. They [LHS administration] brush it off.”
Tamren Batteate agreed, stating, “There needs to be more education of vaping.” She also mentioned her concerns over vaping being a gateway drug, meaning that vaping leads to the use of other drugs, like marijuana.
“It’s a waste of time and costs money. Put the money in other interests,” said Chris Korsak.
Jennifer Franks stated bluntly, “Don’t vape. It’s gross.”
Amelia Johnson (10), who used to vape regularly, said, “The reason I started — I wasn’t really in a good place and I kind of wanted to do something to get my mind off my emotions.”
“I was doing it every day and bringing it to school to just get through the day because it was a new school and I wanted to be closed off emotionally.”
Johnson started using a wax pen (which is used to vape concentrated THC) at the end of 8th grade and the beginning of freshman year. Because of this, she mentioned her concern for the increasingly younger set of kids exposed to vaping.
Johnson said she was very secretive when it came to her wax pen because her parents would react terribly if they found out she used one. Along with this was the paranoia at school in fear of a random bag check.
Johnson recounted one incident in which her friend’s sister caught them only to provide more wax to vape.
She has not used a wax pen for a month and a half, but Johnson said she has no direct plans either to quit or continue vaping.
“If I need something to help me through the day [I’ll use my wax pen] because I have my bad days where I need to smoke right now or I’m not gonna make it through the day,” she said.
On the reason for the popularity of vaping she believes, “It comes down to an emotional level. They may need a refuge.”