The Harbinger Online

Social Smoking

Photo by Haley Bell, Morgan Browning and Kaitlyn Stratman

Boys, it’s time to take a lay break.

Jared Johnson* looks around, scanning hands for the elusive royal blue pack of Parliament Full Flavor cigarettes. Several beers into the party, Johnson feels himself starting to pass out – he needs to “wake up.” It barely takes a second before several friends pipe up, “Meet me out back.”

Johnson cups his hand around the flame as the crackle of the burning tobacco begins, the bright orange glow highlighting the cigarette. After the last few drags, the boys can’t resist another. After all, it’s only at the parties that they do it.

Several minutes later, they ash their cigarettes, chew a few pieces of gum and go back inside. They sit back down on the couch like they never even left – another Saturday night.

“It’s crazy,” Johnson said. “Every Saturday night I go through Snapchat, and every story has people smoking in it. It’s a normal thing to do.”

But it wasn’t always normal. Johnson and his friends are part of the growing trend in cigarette usage during parties at East. Compared to last year — and national statistics — East has a higher amount of students smoking cigarettes.

A recent survey of 410 East students showed that 21 percent of students have smoked cigarettes before. This differs from the poll Harbinger released last year about cigarettes, when responses showed that 18.9 percent of students had smoked a cigarette before – a 2 percent increase in one year alone.


East alumnus Kevin Guy* says the trend started last year — his year — 2016. According to Guy, his grade popularized smoking at parties because younger students saw them doing it and would imitate.

“We kind of just made it acceptable to smoke cigs,” Guy said.

This new acceptance, as Guy called it, may account for the rise in smokers. But East’s increasing numbers contradict the decreasing national statistics. In a 2013 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Kansas, 10.2 percent of 1,850 students smoked cigarettes regularly. This was a decrease from 14.4 percent in 2011.

In fact, the last time the state percentage matched East’s number of students who had smoked at least once before — 21 percent — was 2005.

A reason for this high number could be cigarettes’ popularity at parties – they have become the party phenomenon at East, according to student Joey Smith*. He can walk into any given party in the East area to find the smell of smoke lingering in the air, a group of three or four guys in the backyard “ripping heaters.” Once they’re done, another group walks out – it’s a night-long cycle.

But smoking is strictly part of the party life, according to Smith. It’s not a part of their everyday life. Students say they aren’t addicted, but rather they just do it to “wake themselves up” at the peak of the night.

“I don’t consider myself a smoker,” Smith said. “I only do it when I party. I can’t think of anyone who actually regularly smokes.”

This does seem to be the case for most students, as it’s rare for them to smoke outside of parties, according to Jennifer Clark*. Since the actual nights spent smoking are limited, it does not seem like it occurs often. But when those parties are multiple nights a week, it can add up.

Several adults in the East community were unaware of the significant difference in East and national statistics, such as district resource officer Dave Whisenhunt and associate principal Dr. Susan Leonard. Apart from an incident involving cigarettes on Oct. 8 — which administration declined to discuss in further detail — Whisenhunt has not caught any students smoking cigarettes on campus during a school event.

In fact, both Whisenhunt and Dr. Leonard believe the use of electronic cigarettes is a bigger problem at school, not regular cigarettes, because more students have been caught with the former. Once Dr. Leonard learned about East’s increasing number of smokers, she found it hard to believe.

“To see [the trend of smoking] coming back is really heartbreaking,” Dr. Leonard said. “ I knew some people that experimented with smoking maybe a little bit during college, but nobody really became smokers. I just felt like we had made progress [in reducing the amount of smokers].”


Dr. Leonard had hoped the strong anti-cigarette campaigns in the 90’s had led to the end of the teen-smoking era. After all, the negative effects cigarettes have on one’s health are common knowledge now. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, smoking one cigarette reduces one’s life by 11 minutes. By the end of a party, most students say they smoke around a total of 10 cigarettes. That means after one night of party smoking, a student can take nearly two hours of their life.

In addition to its more immediate health effects, smoking cigarettes as a teenager can leave a lasting impact.

“Smoking in adulthood is closely associated with smoking during adolescence,” said Dr. Matthew Sharper, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at KU Medical Center. “Ninety percent of adult smokers smoked their first cigarette before the age of 18. The longer one smokes, the more difficult it is to stop.”

Yet students, like Smith, don’t care whether or not it’s unhealthy. Instead, it’s all about the feeling they get when the flame hits the tobacco. Plus students argue drinking is just as dangerous health-wise, but people still do it anyways.

“I think it’s not as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of people who judge me – they drink all the time. So when they say smoking cigs is gross and bad for you, I can say the same thing about [their] drinking alcohol.”

East administration has a policy in place for incidents involving cigarettes on campus that includes discussion with the DRO on how to best handle the situation. Since there have been no instances of cigarettes on campus though apart from the one on Oct. 8, it has not been used much this year.

Overall, Johnson, Smith and Clark agree that cigarettes’ strong presence at parties contribute to the increase.

“I mean it’s not like we are hurting anyone else,” Smith said. “We are in high school. Everyone smokes, it is what it is. I don’t see the problem.”

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Caroline Heitmann

Senior, Head Copy Editor Caroline enjoys running cross country and playing piano. She loves her three sisters and friends and is pretty much the life of the party. Her summer consisted of lifeguarding at Fairway Pool, and she is excited to be back on Harbinger for her last year. Read Full »

Harrison Gooley

Harrison Gooley is a senior at Shawnee Mission East and is starting his third year on staff as a copy editor for the Harbinger. He plays football and lacrosse and is also involved in DECA. He enjoys hunting, fishing, and spending time with his grandpa. Harrison is excited to be in his last year of high school and make memories. Read Full »

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