At Berkeley High School (BHS), it requires more energy to avoid vaping than it does to try it. Teens are drawn to the rebellious act of vaping, especially when it’s advertised in such a glamorous way. Many students were initially drawn to vaping because everyone seemed to be doing it. The cotton-candy-flavored “vape juices” and the cool shapes the vapor makes just added to the appeal. Unlike cigarettes, vaping devices were more easily accessible and hadn’t been on the market for long enough to explicitly prove their negative health effects. Social pressures linking vaping with “coolness” sucked many BHS students in.
While laws attempted to limit advertisements from vape companies, it was too little too late. Teens had already been exposed to all sorts of vaping devices, from Juuls and Suorins to Puffs and SMOKs. The legal age requirement for purchasing a vape device in California is 21, but students can still easily get their hands on them as online stores and smoke shops often don’t ask for proof of age.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of vape users around the world has rapidly increased, from about 7 million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018. Vaping is becoming an epidemic, with mysterious deaths illuminating how little we know about its consequences. We don’t have sufficient scientific data to show the long-term effects of vaping — just individual injuries and deaths linked to it.
Headlines about the consequences of vaping have infiltrated the news, and vaping addicts and parents alike are starting to panic. While efforts are being made to warn youth about the addiction and harm associated with vaping, teens who have already fallen into the nicotine trap have no one helping to pull them out.
As the death toll due to vaping-related injuries rises, an increasing number of students will be looking for a way to break their unhealthy habit. This is where BHS can help. Right now, our administration is only focusing on penalizing students for vaping. When caught vaping, students are sent to On Campus Intervention (OCI), and told to participate in drug education or counseling, a resource that is often negatively publicized as punishment. Instead, more resources such as voluntary drug counseling need to be introduced as an opportunity to heal. David Luu, an OCI Coordinator, said that he’d “like to offer a voluntary option but [he doesn’t] have the bandwidth.”
Luu expressed his desire for BHS to take a more holistic approach to student drug abuse. Rather than putting up posters telling students that vaping is killing them, BHS needs to take action by supporting students in their path away from addiction. Luu emphasized that everyone’s relationship with drugs is different and so overcoming drug abuse looks different for everyone. Admin needs to realize that, as teenagers, it’s difficult to filter out peer pressure and advertising. While preventative education is essential in the fight against vaping, it would greatly serve the students of BHS to have adults involved in helping students fight addiction.
There is stigma around admitting that what started out as teenage experimentation has resulted in an addiction, but students must understand that this addiction has potentially fatal consequences. There are nicotine cessation programs offered by the City of Berkeley. However, you must be 18 to participate. For students at BHS, that might mean two more years of vaping before they quit. It is essential that now, more than ever, BHS offers these life-saving resources. Luu has graciously included a petition to instate voluntary nicotine addiction counseling at BHS. If enough students sign it, more resources at BHS will be allocated to this problem, and we will be one step closer to resolving this epidemic.