Teen Vaping

Juliet Shearin

Since early 2018, Cupertino High School’s administration has been working to combat teenage vaping at school, citing health concerns. 

“Vape” is another term for e-cigarette, an alternative to traditional cigarettes initially intended to help addicts quit smoking. Although vaping devices contain less nicotine than traditional cigarettes, they quickly morphed into a new way to consume tobacco products. One statistic cited by the school administration is that one pod of a popular vape brand exposes the user to as much nicotine as a standard pack of twenty cigarettes.

One of the fundamental tenets of the opposition to vaping is the negative health effects. Vaping has been shown to increase blood pressure, a precursor and instigator of heart attacks. Vapes have also been implicated in a recent string of hospitalizations due to coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath.

School administration aims to address vaping with education. Efforts have included slideshow presentations in collaboration with the Alum Rock Counselling Center, one intended for parents and staff, and one designed for students. Other measures taken have been laminated signs in bathrooms warning about the consequences of vaping. One of the most prominent strides administration have taken to curb vaping was their informational lesson delivered to freshmen during the 2018-2019 school year. It included some information on the tiered consequence system of vaping.

“If last year we had students who were multiple vape abusers, we would call teachers and have them escort them to the bathroom. But when the new [school] year started, we wanted to wipe their slate clean,” said Assistant Principal Andy Walczak. He also posits that teenagers vaping at Cupertino High School now is comparable to teenagers smoking cigarettes in high school in the 1970s.

“I know a lot of people got more aware of vaping and how to find it during admin’s presentation, even though it had good intention behind displaying the negative effects [of vaping],” according to one anonymous sophomore student who was uncomfortable with his name being connected to teen vaping.  The presentation emphasized information about the health effects of vaping and the possibility of addiction. However, it also discussed easy methods of acquiring and hiding vaping devices and displayed ads by vaping companies. 

Vaping has increased substantially at Cupertino High School over the course of the past few years. This phenomenon has even discouraged some students from using school restrooms. Teachers often catch students vaping in the bathroom during class time and report them to the office. The increase in vaping has led to some advocating for stricter rules against vaping. 

“I strongly believe our students need to be more aware of the side-effects and the harm that vaping can bring. Students first, and then our community members,” said Fremont Union High School District board member Rosa Kim. Kim has proposed legislation, currently under review, that would ban the sale of vaping products at stores near school campuses. Whether stricter rules would discourage students from vaping, however, remains to be seen.

Student opinions on vaping varies. Some put the root cause at the enormous amounts of pressure Tino students can feel to achieve, which may lead them to turn to vaping as a coping mechanism. 

“I think that ultimately vaping is just a symptom of the greater problem, which is that students are under a lot of stress, and I think that’s why none of what [the administration] is trying to do to prevent vaping will help,” said one anonymous Cupertino student, ”They’re talking about long-term consequences like ‘Oh, you might get lung cancer in the next thirty years.’… People who are under a lot of pressure are always going to deal with the short-term issue,”

“I think the most powerful tool that students have right now is social media. If everyone in the school took the time to make a post about the dangers of vaping, it might compel more people to research vaping before indulging,” said senior Shmily Lin. 

The best methods to prevent vaping are not yet known, but the outlook at Tino appears brighter. Fewer students have been caught with vaping paraphernalia compared to August and September last year, and awareness is spreading about the dangers of vaping.

The response to their current procedures will determine the administration’s next steps. Their goals are clear: limit vaping at school through any pathway that still respects the autonomy of the students. The real question is where, exactly, that delicate balance will fall.