Concerns about vaping have been prevalent at Grace since spring 2018 when specialized vape detectors were installed in the bathrooms. As one of the first schools to install vape detectors, Grace has been aware of this epidemic before it was covered in the mainstream media. In the past few months, mysterious vaping illnesses have killed 18 people and sickened over 1,000. Due to the lack of FDA regulation, and the variety of different e-cigarettes available on the market, it has been difficult for health experts to figure out the cause of each lung illness. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health Director, Dr. Ngozi, “The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous.” In an effort to stop this crisis as soon as possible, Governor Andrew Cuomo placed a temporary ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York through an emergency executive action. The FDA investigated the predominant vape company, Juul, after parents, doctors and schools raised questions about intentionally targeting the youth. When asked about this crisis, Grace students and administrators expressed opinions of concern about the danger and deaths vaping has caused.
A key aspect of the success of e-cigarettes has been advertising. An anonymous sophomore believes that e-cigarettes “are marketed in a very appealing way to kids because our brains are not fully developed yet, and we don’t think about all the negatives that are not presented to us through the marketing.” E-cigarette advertising often showcases fruity flavors and images of the smoke, which are particularly captivating and aesthetically pleasing to teenagers. Freshmen agree that authorities should make it harder for e-cigarettes to fall into the hands of children. It’s too easy for teenagers to access e-cigarettes today, and more regulations should be enforced immediately to prevent this crisis from worsening. Students also shared their opinions about the best ways to stop teenagers from vaping. Sophomores and juniors expressed concerns that action should be taken immediately because nicotine addictions are “distracting students in school” and affecting the way students perform academically. Juniors and seniors agree that people need to find it within themselves to stop and find something else to do instead of vaping. Logically, the most effective way for students and adults to quit vaping would occur when the individual truly wants to stop because although making e-cigarettes illegal would help, people who want to vape would still find ways to access e-cigarettes.
Members of the administration also shared a concern for the current e-cigarette crisis regarding teenagers. Mr. Mahabir agrees with students that legal action should be taken. He stated, “I think government action and regulation is essential. I don’t think that the free market will regulate itself because markets are designed to sell products and that is what they will continue to do.” As vaping has become particularly popular among high school students in recent years, schools similar to Grace have been faced with the challenge of coming up with the best way to deal with this situation. When discussing possible solutions to eliminating teen use of e-cigarettes, it is important to consider why they were attracted to vaping in the first place. Dr. Polanski noted, “If you understand the psychological aspects of vaping, it would be easier to understand why people do it. Is it stress? Does it look cool? Is it to pretend to be older than you are?” Clearly, no school supports their students vaping because aside from it being illegal, it’s likely that e-cigarettes can harm the way students perform academically in school. Mr. Mahabir added, “In general, it creates a recreational culture that doesn’t allow students to focus on what’s important. It doesn’t support students learning, which is why we don’t allow substances at school.” Nicotine addictions can be highly distracting and can hinder students from staying focused on schoolwork both in and outside the classroom.
E-cigarettes initially created with the intention of helping adults quit smoking, have proven to cause more harm than good. It is important that people take action on this issue before it escalates, specifically among teenagers in academic environments. It’s comforting to know that Grace has taken action on the vaping epidemic among teenagers. Grace has installed detectors in an effort to steer students away from e-cigarettes, as well as provided access to safe space advocates who are available to support in this area while keeping the student’s best interest in mind.