Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Roundtable at Marion County High School explores the phenomenon of electronic cigarettes among teenagers

Marion County High School in Lebanon (Photo from Marion County Public Schools)
By Emily LaForme
The Lebanon Enterprise

“Over the past two years it’s become more common,” said student Brianna Meeks. “I started seeing it more in school this year, in the bathrooms and in the parking lot after school.”

Meeks was talking about the use of electronic cigarettes, including Juuls and other vapes, inside Marion County High School. It isn’t just a fad here; it’s becoming prevalent across the country.

“They hide it in their shirts, or you see them coming up the hill with a big puff of smoke, you kind of know what’s going on, between classes in the bathrooms,” said instructional assistant Robert Spalding.

Student Kelly Miles said, “You’ll see three girls going into one stall in the bathroom.”

Miles and Meeks were among MCHS students who participated in a roundtable discussion with school staff last week about the rise of e-cigarette products in school. Every student said they had at least one friend that smokes an e-cig product or had tried it. The senior students estimated that approximately 75 percent of the senior class use e-cigs, and around 90 percent have tried them.

According to, 3 million high-school students, or 20 percent of the total, are vaping, and the percentage grows every year.

“As far as the effects of it, we don’t necessarily understand it yet, so that is concerning,” said Principal Thad Elmore. “We are treating it much like we would treat the use of tobacco products; we confiscate it and can enforce consequences for repeat offenders, like in-school suspension. We do also try to offer support, medical help in regards to it or other assistance, because it is addictive and we understand that.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to begin smoking cigarettes in the future.

The CDC also reported that e-cigarettes do not release harmless vapor, but contain substances such as nicotine, ultrafine particulate, volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead, which can be inhaled into the lungs and cause further damage. The flavor chemicals can contain diacetyl, which has been linked to lung disease.

According to the CDC, Juuls have a high level of nicotine. A single pod contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

The staff members at the roundtable seemed pretty stumped about what goes into the e-cig products, and worry that the students don’t seem to understand how harmful nicotine can be.

“I wonder, is it more concentrated, does it get you some sort of high or hit from it because the nicotine is more concentrated?” asked School Resource Officer William Walsh. No one had an answer to give him. 

Student Elise Carpenter said, “That’s just something I’ve never been interested in. I’ve never taken a hit off one. . . . I’ve heard people say they’ll get a high or a buzz off it, but I don’t understand it.”

Miles said, “I think teens know the effects, but they don’t want to face them. You can’t see the damage it’s doing to your body. If you see someone with a cigarette, you see the ashes and the smoke has a grayer look and distinct smell. With the Juuls and stuff, it doesn’t seem harmful.”
The students said vaping products can cost $20 or more, and you have to pay for the refillable flavor pods, which can become costly.

“It’s expensive. Some kids go through them like crazy,” said Miles. “I hear kids bragging about how often they go through pods. I always wonder, why you would want to spend your money on that?”

So where does MCHS go from here?

“What I would like to do is consider the conversation, work with our Youth Services staff members, and have another conversation next year again and keep the conversation going,” Elmore said. “We definitely need to start talking about further educating our students, and parents, about e-cigarettes.”

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