Over the past decade, the use of vapes has increased dramatically across the United States. Vaping was introduced to many teenagers with the popularization of the JUUL, which was first put on the market in 2015. What followed was a boom in the number of high school students who used nicotine.
Robert, a Berkeley High School (BHS) senior whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, said that he purchased vape supplies from Berkeley smoke shops as a thirteen-year-old. “When I went into high school, vaping was the rage,” he said. “Everyone was addicted to nicotine, so I got addicted to nicotine too.”
“Vaping is a big problem [at BHS],” said Robert, “because there are these vapes that are tiny little concealable objects that taste like candy and are marketed towards kids.”
Rafael Piedra, a Hive 5 teacher at BHS, also said that the amount of students who vape at BHS concerns him. He called out the fruity and candy-like e-cigarette flavorings as something that students were attracted to. Piedra and Robert are not the only ones to voice concerns about nicotine usage among teenagers in the US.
Beginning in 2018, there has been a waterfall of restrictions on e-cigarettes and their various flavorings. In 2018, JUUL announced it would stop selling its flavored pods in retail stores. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for more regulations on nicotine delivery devices in 2019. Finally, in January of 2020, many flavors that attracted minors, such as mint and fruit flavors, were banned by the FDA in hopes of having fewer young smokers.
However, by the time these restrictions were implemented, thousands of teenagers had already been hooked on nicotine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In 2020, 19.6 percent of high school students (3.02 million) and 4.7 percent of middle school students (550,000) reported current e-cigarette use.” Robert said, “They’re so accessible, and you can do it in class or in the bathrooms. Nobody really knows what you’re putting in your body when you do that.”
“What concerns me is that students don’t realize how unhealthy it is,” said Molly Offermann, a counselor who has been working at BHS for 15 years. “Vaping for anybody is remarkably dangerous, but especially for teens.”
CDC research found that one JUUL pod contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes, with around 40 mg of nicotine per pod. Although scientists are not yet sure of the long-term effects of vaping, it is clear that it is still damaging.
Robert decided to quit vaping when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “It was fun at first, but [then] it’s just something you have to rely on,” said Robert. “I thought [quitting] would be harder than it was … I just muscled through it.”
While quitting can be challenging, it’s achievable, and he encouraged students to do the same. “Everyone who is reading this and everyone who is vaping, you’re super young and you’re blowing it for yourself in the future … I don’t need to ruin it for myself now.”