Smoke Signals

As cigarette sales dwindle, vaping has become the newest trend among teens.


Thirty years ago, it was not uncommon to see an Olathe North student smoking a cigarette in the designated “smoking courtyard” in what is now the senior hallway. However, today, tobacco possession and use is now illegal for people under 18, but young people are finding new ways to get their nicotine fix.

“Vaping” didn’t become mainstream until about 2010. It was originally meant to help adults with their addiction to nicotine in traditional cigarettes. Somehow, though, it has become a youth trend.

Odorless and undetectable, it’s convenient for teens trying to hide their addiction from parents and teachers. Not to mention, they come in flavors like “cotton candy,” “mint,” and “unicorn vomit,” which leads many to believe that they are marketed towards younger people. Recently, electronic cigarettes have become cheaper, more high tech, and easier for minors to get their hands on. Olathe North’s students are not immune to this epidemic.

“I’m not ignorant to the fact that my students vape. I wish they wouldn’t, especially at school,” Says Principal Jason Herman.

When asked about the consequences of vaping at school, he replied with “3 day OSS if caught smoking and 3 days ISS if caught in possession. When caught, we will always confiscate the vape. There are other restorative justice plans in the future. Students might need to take online courses [rather] than OSS,” Herman said.

“[Teenagers vaping] is not something that should be done. For most students, it is illegal because you cannot possess tobacco. Even if you are 18, [according to the] code of conduct book, you are not allowed to have tobacco products at school.” says Student Resource Officer David Reed.

Reed stated that the consequences of being caught vaping were “If [you’re] under 18, legally, you will be issued a citation, a $25 fine, and have to show up in court. Anyone who possesses and smokes gets OSS”.

According to USA Today, The FDA is cracking down on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, worried that the use by middle and high school students has reached epidemic proportions. The agency has given the makers of vapes 60 days to prove that they can keep their devices away from minors or have them taken off the market. This also means possibly removing the various flavors available if they can’t keep them away from teens. The agency has issued more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money penalty complaints to stores illegally selling e-cigarettes to minors.

FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said that “The FDA won’t tolerate a whole generation of young people becoming addicted to nicotine.”

There are more than 460 brands of e-cigarettes on the market, but each works essentially the same way. The atomizer inside the vape heats the liquid until it evaporates, creating a vapor for which the device is nicknamed. The user then inhales the vapor. The trouble with vaping arises from what is in the liquid itself.

Vaping introduces toxins, chemicals, and carcinogens into the developing bodies of millions of teenagers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries. With statistics climbing, there’s another important thing we need to understand: why do high school students vape? 17-year-old Olathe South Sophomore Will Herrera offers a better understanding. Herrera started smoking cigarettes when he was 13 years old and starting vaping at the age of 15.

“There was something relaxing about knowing what you’re doing isn’t good for you,” he explained. “I think that vaping is dumb, but could be a good thing for people to [quit] smoking. I don’t think people should do it just to be cool,” Herrera stated.

Evidence suggests a strong relationship between vaping and traditional tobacco use. Researchers are uncovering trends among people who vape, or vapers, implying that people who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes than those who do not. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a study conducted in the UK by found that adult smokers who vaped were actually less likely to quit smoking. In fact, they smoked more cigarettes than non-vapers. The same people conducted a survey of 800 smokers who were using vaping to quit, and found that only 9% of them reported to have successfully quit a year later. Keep in mind that using vapes to quit smoking is one of the major selling points of JUUL labs and other vape-producing companies. Since cigarettes are the most common cause of unnecessary death in America, killing over half of all smokers, scientists worry about the future of our teenagers and their vaping habits.

“It’s expensive and a waste of money. “If it’s for quitting smoking [I’m O.K. with vaping], but if it’s for the thrill, then I am against [it,]” Olathe North student Andy Walsh explains.

Like Herrera, Walsh started vaping at a young age. He says he doesn’t support high schoolers vaping, and plans to quit.

“I don’t think less of someone who vapes,” ON student Elizabeth Barrett, a vaper, said. “A lot of people do it, so I don’t think less of you if you do.”

But why vape? Many, like Herrera, have admitted that they do it because they find it to be intentionally self-destructive and gives them a buzz. Some, like Walsh, caved to peer pressure and found themselves caught up in an addiction.

Olathe North student Sean Krause gave us another reason. “[I vape] because it’s fun for me and I like doing vape tricks. I started by vaping with one of my friends and I enjoyed it, so I ended up getting one myself,” said Krause.

JUULs, e-cigarettes that resemble flash drives, are growing in popularity due to how discreet and easy to sneak into school or a workplace they are. According to JUUL Labs, one pod can contain the same amount of nicotine as a regular pack of 20 cigarettes. Users can add certain ingredients to get a different high (one of the most popular being cannabis), but most pods can contain up to 90% propylene and glycerine (a 30/60 mix), benzoic acid (naturally occurring in tobacco), nicotine, and natural and artificial flavors.

Health Risks

Artificial flavoring in vapes are a health concern for vapers as well. In these flavors, particularly the popcorn flavor, is a chemical called Diacetyl, formerly used as butter flavoring in popcorn. According to the American Lung Association, Diacetyl is linked to bronchiolitis obliterans- scarring of the air sacs in the lungs resulting in narrowing of the airways,
causing shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. This condition, nicknamed popcorn lung, was discovered to be linked to diacetyl after workers in a microwave popcorn plant developed the disease.

According to WebMD, the aerosol produced by vaping has been known to contain multiple harmful and potentially harmful substances. These include nicotine, volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals, ultrafine particles that are inhaled deeply into the lungs, and heavy metals such as iron, nickel, and even lead. Some harmful chemicals found in vape flavors include cinnamaldehyde, o-vanillin, and pentanedione (popcorn). These three chemicals have all resulted in cytotoxicity or cell death.

The nicotine in vape pods gives them an addictive edge, just like cigarettes. This is supposedly why vaping is useful to quit smoking. JUUL Labs claims to use highly purified, USP grade, pharmaceutical grade nicotine in their products. Even vape flavors without nicotine can attack and harm the body at a cellular level. Researchers at Rochester Medical Health Center conducted an experiment to study the effects of seven different common vape pods flavorings on monocytes, a type of white blood cell. All of them produced biomarkers that were indicative of inflammation and tissue damage, suggesting that vape flavors can cause oxidative stress. This is when free radical oxygen is mass produced in cells, overwhelming the body’s antioxidants. Oxidative stress has been proven to be related to over 50 diseases, including psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, obstructive pulmonary disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and more.

A group of researchers at the New York University School of Medicine conducted tests on a group of mice, exposing one group to e-cigarette aerosol and the other to normal air. The group exposed to e-cigarette vapor demonstrated significantly more DNA damage in the heart, lungs, and bladder than those breathing regular filtered air. Also damaged were the DNA repair systems in the cells, necessary to protect against cancer. Urine tests on a group of teenagers who vape revealed a higher level of at least 5 different toxins in their bodies, all of which are known or suspected carcinogens. In 2009, a federal law banned the use of any flavors other than menthol in traditional cigarettes. On the other hand, e-cigarettes are unregulated and use flavors attractive to young people.

According to the Washington Post, inhalants aren’t the only dangerous thing about vaping. The death of 38 year old Tallmadge D’Elia was linked to his vape pen exploding in his hand, sending projectile shrapnel into his brain and starting a small fire in his Florida home. His body was found on May 5th with burns over 80% of his body. An autopsy concluded that D’Elia’s cause of death was a “projectile wound of the head.” The U.S Fire Administration wrote that between 2009 and 2016, there were at least 195 reported instances of e-cigarettes exploding or catching fire. This is often the result of the atomizer (heater) or the battery being old and/or malfunctioning.

A lot of vapers have little to no idea what they’re really inhaling. 13.7% of them, in fact. Vaping damages the user’s DNA, which can lead to cancer. The Institute of Environmental Medicine at New York University concluded that e-cigarette smokers have a higher risk than non-smokers of developing lung and bladder cancers, as well as heart diseases. If you’re considering starting vaping, Will Herrera’s advice is this: “Don’t start if you’re just trying to fit in. It’s not worth it.”