Senior Martin Walsh’s* e-cig, or “vape” is not some cheap, “500 puff” e-cig from the gas station. His vapor clouds have the exact temperature, taste and nicotine content. He can customize and create his ideal smoke-simulating experience.
Whether they’re vaping at parties, in their room or together with friends, Walsh, his friends and other East students have taken up vaping as a high-tech hobby. Regardless of it’s illegality and potential health risk, students have created a culture of vaping that’s based on preference and personalization. A study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that the use of e-cigarettes tripled between 2013 and 2014 among middle and high school students.
“Vaping is such a unique, new thing,” said local vape shop employee Rick Jones*. “It’s like technology in a way, like how kids are so up to date on phones. Vaping has the same kind of thing — new products are coming out daily.”
Yet, Jones finds himself frequently turning away these customers, as it is illegal for persons under the age of 18 to purchase any sort of e-cig or vape, regardless of nicotine content. He realizes vaping is very attractive to young people, but doesn’t want a flood of underage kids coming into the shop.
Because of the similarities between tobacco products and vaping, East’s policies on tobacco and e-cigarettes are the same: if a student is caught with a device, they may be suspended. If the student is under 18, an SMSD police officer must be notified. This policy is in effect over all school property, even if a student is using one in their car.
However, Haney hasn’t seen a rise in students getting caught with tobacco or vapes in recent years. Yet, some students still vape in school, blowing the vapor down their sleeve or quickly waving it away, leaving only a faint smell of the e-juice’s flavor. Walsh and sophomore Charlie Stanton* prefer to vape in private, at home while doing homework or after work: places where they need a relief from stress and want a buzz. But a buzz requires the user to have nicotine, which causes the same negative effects in vapes as it does in cigarettes.
Although vape shops advertise vaping as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, in a study published by the CDC last month, the lasting effects of e-cigarettes “may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote nicotine addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”
To Walsh and Stanton, these health risks still are insignificant compared to those of cigarettes. They take comfort in the fact that they aren’t inhaling the tar and other elements cigarettes contain. In addition, they feel the ease and accessibility of vaping provides even more incentive to further their interest in vapes.
“When I smoke cigarettes, I do it as alternative to chewing tobacco,” Walsh said. “But I’d vape if I don’t want to beat up my gums, or if I’m driving. It’s nice because you can have the windows up and [the vapor] won’t smell like a typical cigarette.”
Lack of smell is just one of the features that students find attractive. Since being introduced to the U.S. in 2007, vapes increased in variety. Vapes are now sold with various tips and tanks, different levels of nicotine for the optimal buzz and an array of flavored “e-juices,” ranging from cereal, churro and nacho cheese flavors.
And unlike pen vapes, Walsh’s vape has a long lifespan — when the e-juice runs out, it can be replaced, with a new flavor, too. Walsh explained that vape juice can contain 0mgs, but “seasoned veterans” can go up to 40mgs. Walsh prefers using 12mg juice, so he set up his vape to produce minimal smoke to not burn his throat.
The expanse of flavors of e-juice and personalization of devices attract kids who aren’t even looking for a buzz. Sophomore James Bradley* only uses juice that omits all nicotine. This way, there is little throat burn: he can raise the heat settings and produce huge, thick clouds for better “vape tricks,” like rings and spirals of smoke, dubbed “vapenados.”
“I do it more for the flavor and when hanging out with friends,” Bradley said. “Not necessarily for a high or anything like that.”
Jones, who sees the rapid evolution of vapes through his shop, feels that there is no stopping kids from using tobacco products, and that vapes are the healthier route. Stanton agrees, and hopes vapes will be decriminalized for people under 18.
*names changed to protect identity