At School, ‘Everyone Vapes,’ and Adults Are in Crisis Mode
By Julie Bosman
Sep 21 2019
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — In Alabama, a school removed the doors from bathroom stalls to stop students from sneaking inside to vape. In Colorado, a school decided to forfeit a volleyball game after finding “widespread vaping” and other infractions by the team. And in Pennsylvania, at a school where administrators have tried installing sensors to detect vaping in bathrooms and locker rooms, students caught with vape devices face a $50 fine and a three-day suspension.
At least 530 people have been sickened by mysterious lung illnesses related to using e-cigarettes with nicotine or vaping THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and at least eight have died. That has sent high schools, the epicenters of youth vaping, racing to give teenagers a new, urgent message: Vaping can be deadly.
Federal health officials have yet to pinpoint an exact cause of the recent illnesses, but the alarming pattern has put principals and teachers into crisis mode. They are holding assemblies to warn students about the dangers. They are getting creative with rules to make it harder for students to secretly vape in school bathrooms, hallways and even classrooms. They are trying to train parents and teachers on the wide array of vape devices, which look like pens or flash drives and which many adults do not even recognize.
During an assembly at one suburban Chicago high school this week, hundreds of students, many dressed in school colors of orange and black in honor of homecoming, saw an X-ray image of a young man’s lungs, cloudy and damaged, on an auditorium screen.
He had recently been hospitalized after vaping and placed in a medically induced coma for a week, a substance-abuse consultant told the students from a stage.
“His lungs are now that of a 70-year-old. He’s in his 20s,” the consultant, Ashleigh Nowakowski, said. “Can you imagine how that’s going to affect the rest of his life? He can’t run. He can’t play sports.”
The students watched solemnly. A few squirmed in their seats.
Is It Safe?
Administrators at American high schools have long tried to warn students about the risks of vaping, which gained popularity several years ago as an alternative to cigarettes and works by heating liquid and turning it into vapor to be inhaled. But the outbreak of illnesses has brought new levels of urgency and attention to the issue. Students who had brushed off the warnings in the past, saying that vaping was relatively harmless, could no longer do so.
After the assembly, at Crystal Lake Central High School, 45 miles northwest of Chicago, some students said they were skeptical that vaping was as dangerous as the presentation suggested.
The students told of a high school ecosystem where vaping devices are easily obtained, and refill cartridges with THC oil, known as carts, are sold for $20 apiece. It is not uncommon, these students said, for seniors to sell vape pens to freshmen, eager to take up vaping.
Opportunities to vape discreetly are everywhere, they said — in an empty hallway, a bathroom stall or the back row of a classroom where a teacher cannot possibly monitor every student’s move. Older students said they tended to leave campus for lunch, vaping in their cars along the way.
“It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t do it,” said Alexis Padilla, 16, a junior. “You can’t go on social media without someone’s videos of them doing it.”