Vaping “epidemic” takes hold

The rise in vaping and its effects

As of 2018, more than 1 in 4 high school students and roughly 1 in 14 middle schoolers vape nationally, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

A study conducted by the CDC displays last year’s record-setting-high statistic in youth use of e-cigarettes and other such devices. The issue has become increasingly relevant recently, as the number of vaping-related deaths continues to rise. 

According to the Washington Post and Vox, as of now there have been as many as 34 vaping-related deaths nationwide. There have also been over a thousand cases of a vaping-related lung disease reported, though it is currently unclear what the cause of the outbreak is. 

Symptoms of the illness can be presented as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, fevers and fatigue, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Cases have appeared to be similar, though it is not certain that they have one singular common cause. 

According to Principal Kevin Buchanan, the number of students at OPHS who have admitted to vaping via an anonymous survey has risen over recent school years.

“We have the Healthy Kids Task Force [survey] data [from last year], which is self-reported anonymously. [The survey includes] cigarettes and vaping, but we’ve never had a cigarette issue [at OPHS]. I mean, I’ve been here ten years and we’ve never had a smoking problem,” Buchanan said. “But in terms of the number of kids admitting to vaping, they’ve gone up.”

In light of this, OPHS has taken to installing preventative measures on campus. Vape sensors have been installed in bathrooms, which alert administrators via text as soon as one is set off after sensing vape smoke. The text includes the location and time at which the sensor was triggered.

The addition of sign-in/out sheets in each classroom serves a similar purpose — if a student signs out regularly from particular classes or from all their classes at regular intervals, this may work to clue in the administration as to the possibility of them leaving class in order to vape.

“What we’re working for is to help kids, once we catch them. So rather than just suspend them, we rewrote all of our tobacco policies two years ago. Now we have an alternative to suspension, which allows kids to clean their record (erase the suspension or punishment from their record),” Buchanan said.

Buchanan has also printed out a slew of anti-vaping posters, plastered across campus within the walls of classrooms and bathrooms alike. However, Buchanan feels that students have been rendered oblivious to the appearance of the posters as a result of passing by them each day. He hopes to put new posters up soon that are equally striking as the current ones.

“The only good thing for me, now, is that now you’re seeing it on the news. I mean, look at my Twitter feed. I’d like to be tweeting that we’re winning football games or volleyball games or that all the teams have made the fall playoffs, but they’re all just anti-vaping tweets,” Buchanan said.

In the areas within and surrounding Oak Park sit various smoke shops. The nearest one in relation to OPHS is the Oak Smoke Shop, which opened in 2018. Upon its opening, there was an amount of outcry from Oak Park residents, according to Buchanan.

“I am extremely upset. This is a very family-oriented community and to have smoke shops opening up where our children hang out after school is appalling” Patricia Stambelos, mother of an OPHS student, said in an interview with the Talon.

Buchanan also worries about the possibility of smoke shops selling products to underage Oak Park citizens. As of June 9, 2016, the legal minimum age to buy tobacco, vape or e-cigarette products was raised to 21, making it illegal to sell any products to anyone under that.

In the past, Buchanan heard rumors of a local smoke shop that had previously sold vaping devices to underage students of OPHS.

“I did meet with smoke shop owners to let them know that I had received information that our students had purchased items there and that if I received any similar reports in the future I would pass the info on to law enforcement,” Buchanan said. 

In response to the growing number of health complications associated with e-cigarettes and vaping devices, Councilman Paul Koretz has proposed a motion to ban the sale of such products in Los Angeles until they are deemed safe by the FDA. 

The ban would be parallel to one enacted by the city of San Francisco this June, which banned the sale and distribution of vaping devices and e-cigarette products. City Attorney of San Francisco Dennis Herrera co-wrote the proposal with the intention of encouraging the FDA to increase the speed and consistency of reviews. 

“E-cigarettes are products that, by law, are not allowed on the market without FDA review. For some reason, the FDA has so far refused to follow the law. If the federal government is not going to act, San Francisco will,” Herrera said in an interview with NPR

OPUSD’s Director for Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger believes that the best way to combat the recent bout of vaping-related illnesses is for one to dispose of all vaping devices as soon as possible. If they are needed, teachers, administrators and counselors are always available to help. 

“We have worked to inform parents and students of the dangers of vaping. In addition to education, we have treated vaping as we would any other controlled substance,” OPUSD’s Director for Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger wrote to the Talon. “During the school day, the school acts as a parent or guardian would, so we are adamantly against any student vaping.”