Taylor Green, Mo Kelly & Zoe Kwasnicki
What’s the story with vaping?
SLA is no stranger to this new-ish trend. There have been multiple incidents of SLA students vaping in bathrooms or other parts of school. As the teachers and staff started to catch student in the act, a warning was sent out via email in March to all students and parents about the consequences of vaping in school.
But what exactly is vaping? And why has it become popular?
Vaping is a constant in modern teen culture with certain statistics claiming that 1 in 5 of high school students in the United States vape.
According to the Center on Addiction, vaping is defined as “the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device.” There are multiple types of vape pens that are popular including the Juul and NJoy.
Similar to vaping, there has been a recent popularization of dab pens. Dabs are a form of concentrated THC that is in an oil form instead of the standard herb marijuana form. A dab pen has all of the components of a vape pen and works in the same way.
SLAMedia issued a survey to students to get general opinions and statistics on the matter. Out of 41 people who answered the poll, 26.8% said that they have vaped, and 70.7% said that they have friends who vape.
As for opinions on the practice, student viewpoints vary widely. There are some students who are fine with it completely while there are others who are adamantly against it.
However, there are also some people caught in a gray area when it comes to their thoughts on vaping and the usage of e-cigs.
“I think without nicotine then it’s fine for people to do for fun, but I think it’s really stupid when people who aren’t already addicted to / don’t already use nicotine vape with nicotine.” One student shares.
Others realize the properties of vaping can help someone quit cigarette smoking. They’d much rather have a friend vape than smoke an actual cigarette.
“I think if people are going to have a vice, vaping isn’t such a bad vice to have as opposed to actual smoke which can cause all kinds of long-term health issues. My mom even quit smoking real cigarettes because of vaping.” One student wrote.
People within the SLA community who are against vaping as a whole tend to view it the same as cigarettes or any form of drug use. From descriptions like “disgustingly abusive” to “hella lame”, it seems like more students are firmly against vaping due to health and safety reasons.
When it comes to dab pens, many students don’t know what they are and have no interest in using them. A few of them don’t equate it to regular e-cigs simply because they have THC and not nicotine.
“Dab pens are essentially still inebriating yourself, just with vapor as opposed to actual weed.” One student explains.
Effect on the SLA Community
According to the Food and Drug Administration, from 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 percent increase of e-cigarette usage among high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle schoolers.
On March 11th, staff member Jeremy Spry sent out an advisory memo stating the concern of vaping in the school bathrooms. According to the School District of Philadelphia policy, having vaping paraphernalia in school counts as having a controlled substance and it can result in suspension.
Following the email, there has been a lot of backlash from students within the community. Many students surveyed admit that there has been a lot of tension not only between grades but for students and teachers as well because it has ruined the system of trust.
“I do think that vaping has affected the relationship between students and teachers. It’s made teachers more untrusting of students, and students feel as though they don’t have an adult to go to in the building.” One student shares.
Another issue that was brought up is the invasion of privacy. Many teachers and staff members have made rounds throughout the bathrooms in school to get kids to stop hanging out in there or to try to catch them in the act.
“It’s uncomfortable when you’re trying to go to the bathroom and teachers/staff burst in searching for students.” One student admits.
A few students feel as though this approach is very counterproductive and is not the way to go about the vaping issue within the school. Students would like to see more information on the health effects and why they shouldn’t smoke rather than a hunt for students vaping.
“The teachers are not responding well at all. Instead of teaching about the dangers of vaping, they are simply attacking and stalking the students and it is NOT okay. This is supposed to be a safe space but certain teachers have turned it into a cat and mouse chase.” Another student shares.
Some students bring up the inequality that they’re facing when it comes to vaping. Many feel as though freshmen and sophomores are less targeted when it comes to vaping, however they do it just as often as upperclassmen.
“I think that teachers think that seniors are the main ones (vaping) because they’re 18 but a lot of underclassmen have approached me about buying pods and stuff for them because I’m of age.” Another student shares.
Math teacher Brad Latimer shares his feelings on SLA’s vaping issue. Contrary to the beliefs of some students, Latimer hasn’t noticed any inequalities in how students are treated when it comes to vaping in school.
“I haven’t observed any difference in how each grade is treated and I don’t necessarily think that the seniors are targeted.” Latimer shares.
Latimer goes on to explain how harrowing the vaping epidemic is due to lack of knowledge. Since it is a pretty recent trend, the long term consequences aren’t as well known.
“There’s tons of facts on smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco but not on vaping which is kinda nerve racking. The problem is so new that there isn’t any long term studies on it’s health effects so you don’t know what vaping for 25 years will do to you.” Latimer explains.
Latimer goes on to share that he has caught a few students vaping. He explains that there are repercussions but for the student’s identity he doesn’t want to go into specifics. He shares that a student getting caught vaping is similar to them smoking a cigarette in the bathroom. However when it comes to dab pens, it is treated like a regular drug issue. It can result in suspension or expulsion.
Latimer explains how he thinks the vaping situation in SLA has made the community less trustworthy.
“I don’t like being in an environment where there is such a broken trust between people. I think that’s one of the cornerstones of our school is that there is a certain level of trust between students and teachers,” he explained.
“I think that there is a very small subsection of students who abuse that trust and are vaping often times in the bathroom and I think that it actively eroded at the trust that exists in this school.”
Assistant Principal Ann Leaness explained that the patrolling It isn’t to ambush students but to enforce why they shouldn’t do it.
“I think that it happens at every school. I don’t think vaping is isolated to our high school. It’s something that’s not supposed to be happening and we need to keep an eye on it so that we make sure it’s not happening.” Leaness explained.
Leaness goes on to explain that the hostility between students and staff arises because the kids know that they shouldn’t be vaping in school. She rationalizes that teachers are trying to keep the community safe for the students.
“If there’s tension, it’s because kids are doing things they’re not supposed to be doing. And that always creates tension between faculty and students because our main concern is to always make sure kids are safe and not hurting themselves or doing things that could cause them harm,” Leaness stated. “And sometimes we have to do things that students don’t like because of that and sometimes teachers have to be a little bit more vigilant and that’s what’s happening.”
Overall, both students and staff agree that due to recent vaping incidents within the school it has affected the dynamic of trust that SLA has built. If students were to minimize vaping overall, it would put the school back on track to being the trusting environment it once was. But is that possible?
Students also cited nicotine addiction as part of their want and need to use vape pens: “I vape because I used to smoke cigarettes and it helped me quit.” And nicotine addiction is extremely difficult to quit. To quit smoking takes medicine and therapy and even then nicotine patches and gum are used regularly.
Perhaps acknowledging that ending vaping in school is not a realistic possibility, the school has also sought to provide medical and emotional support to students – a step that has already been partly taken by the administration. Recently organized was an informational meeting for parents titled “How to Talk to Your Teen About Drugs” with guest speakers Robert Niczyporowicz & Frank McCartney from the Drug Enforcement Administration Community Outreach Specialists.
Picture of flavored Juul pods courtesy of Civilized.life