Vaping: The New Teenage Epidemic Sweeping Through High Schools


Josie Shaw and Carl Wilger

In the United States, underage smoking was nearly eradicated from all levels of school until the early 2010’s. At this time the widespread usage of electronic cigarettes was introduced to those looking for a safer, more pleasant method of satisfying a nicotine addiction. 

A clean, sleek, smokeless alternative was an incredibly appealing substitute to the smoke-associated cigarettes from generations before. However, they are now being used as an easier way for minors to access nicotine. 

 “The first time I ever took a hit from a vape, it didn’t feel wrong because it’s so different from other drugs, and it’s not associated with being dirty or bad,” a Fredericksburg High School junior said. “It’s shiny and fun to blow clouds, so I could see how it’s so easy to start vaping.” 

With 2.1 million high school students vaping in 2017, such a fast-spreading trend has never been seen before. Hard to stop and harder to catch, products such as Juul are advertised as a safer alternative to smoking, but one pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes and can lead to a variety of symptoms over extended usage. 

“You get tired. You don’t have any motivation to do anything. They call it Nic-Sick,” a Fredericksburg High School senior said. 

Electronic vaping is such a new issue that risk and addiction assessments have not been completed and long-term effects are unknown. Substance abuse has always been a problem with certain student bodies, but vaping has brought these issues to a new level. With soft, sweet flavors, such as Mango and Menthol, many organizations, including the FDA, has cited that the kid-friendly marketing and appeal of these products has influenced youth in the use of electronic cigarettes and has reached an epidemic proportion.

Vaping can lead you to other gateway drugs,” Principal Joe Gonzalez said. “It impacts your health. It impacts your pocket bookIt just has a lot of different implications and sometimes you may not be prepared to handle them.  I think it’s really strange that electronic cigarettes have taken off.  It’s scary for us because we don’t know the dangers and the science of how it’s going to affect our youth as they grow older. 

Numerous studies have been published on the possible correlation of vaping as a lead-in to harder drug use, but according to the FDA, the only drug that has increased in usage from 2017 to 2018 has been marijuana. All other hard drugs, including cocaine, heroin and ecstasy have all not increased, reaching near-historic lows. 

“I think your motivations, as well as your perception and priorities all change, as well as what is important to you,” STEM teacher Andrew Matthes said. “Nicotine itself is an addictive substance. If you put nicotine in Coke, people will like Coke more. Unlike cigarettes, vaping is a lot easier to hide, but it’s a lot harder to impose limitations on buying vapes, but people will always get around them, and I think it’s more about the enforcement of owning one.”

Students who participate in such trends have a very different view of vaping than the faculty. Many see it as a fun experience that has no true harm and believe they can easily stop at any moment. Most didn’t even feel pressured to try it in the first place and began vaping out of sheer curiosity. 

“I think people who want to start aren’t being peer pressured,” a Fredericksburg High School sophomore said.  “We’re teenagers, and it’s just trying it. That’s the best part. It’s not like a cigarette.  It’s not viewed as disgusting, and it feels safer. It’s not bad. It’s just fun. I just go ‘oh I’m bored. I’ll hit my juul.’” 

Some of the faculty have a deeper connection with the issue. Many have seen the consequences of early drug use in high school from peers on to students. 

“It’s not easy to go to a funeral,” Assistant Principal Sarah Southard said.  “At first it was ‘oh this is just a cigarette, or this is just a beer.’ Then it progressed to heroin and then to jail and then to the grave. That doesn’t always happen, but it started in high school.”