The Buzz About Vape School Leaders and Students Weigh in on the Increasing use of vaporizers

BY LINDSEY SULLIVAN (Editor-in-Chief), JESS FERGUSON (Assistant News Editor), AND CALLIE ROSS (Staff Writer)

Blueberry, watermelon, mango—these are not describing the produce aisle of Stop & Shop, but a few of the thousands of different e-juice flavors available to users. Vapes, more formally known as e-cigarettes, are devices comprised of water vapor that is inhaled and then exhaled by the user.

In Walpole High School (WHS), the popularity of vaporizers has dramatically increased over the past two years. Of the 515 respondents of an anonymous survey sent out by The Rebellion, nearly half—43.3%—admitted to vaping before. This year, WHS administration has confiscated more vaporizers than any other year, mainly taken from students who vape in the bathrooms.

“[Vaping] doesn’t seem to have any boundaries as far as the kinds of kids, no matter the class level, gender, grade level—it doesn’t seem to matter; it sort of has crossed all the divides,” Walpole High School Principal Stephen Imbusch said. “We had kids who would never have smoked before but are vaping now just because it’s a social thing to do.”

Male WHS student blows out smoke from vaporizer.


When asked why they vape, respondents answered with things such as “for fun,” “for the tricks,” “to escape the stress of life” and “it’s the new trend.” However, the most common response was “for the buzz”—the buzz received from the high levels of nicotine in the juice.

“I use a Juul, and the pods have [50 mL of nicotine]. I vape because I like the buzz the nicotine gives me. It’s like a headrush, and vaping has just become a norm in society, so it’s pretty easy to buy stuff for it,” Nick* said.

54.5% of WHS students who vape have purchased their own vape.

Once nicotine is in the body, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and quickly reaches the brain, which releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, producing a headrush. Though this “buzz” does provide a calming and often euphoric effect for users, coming down from this can have negative effects such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, dulled senses and decreased appetite.

“I started vaping sophomore year just to see what the hype was all about. I used my friend’s vapes for awhile, but I didn’t buy my own until junior year. I enjoy vaping because I get a nicotine buzz almost immediately after vaping. The buzz makes me feel happy, pleasant and energetic. It also doesn’t interfere with my daily life since the buzz only lasts a few minutes before it goes away,” Kelly* said.

Aside from the buzz, vaping serves as a coping mechanism for students, as it has the ability to inhibit negative emotions like anger and anxiety.

“Vaping is actually one of the only things to calm me down. I have anxiety, and before I started vaping I would get nervous for no reason and wouldn't know what to do,” Hannah* said.

51.8% of WHS students who vape also vape while driving.
“Vapes were made to help people quit smoking, not start.” -Anonymous Survey Respondent

While some students use vape to decrease their stress, others use it as an occasional social activity to do with friends.

“Personally, vaping is just something I do with my friends—it’s nothing really more than that. I wouldn’t consider myself addicted; it’s more of a social thing to do,” Jill* said.

In addition to the students who vape in social situations like parties or with friends, many begin using vapes by themselves because they like the effects they give.

“At first, vaping was mostly a social thing for me,” Emily* said. “But then when I started Juuling, I could actually feel myself wanting to do it alone.”

In 2015, Walpole increased the legal purchase age to buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21; therefore, students who wish to buy these products must go to stores such as V&R Smoke Shop in Norton, where the legal age is 18.

“We get a lot of kids from Bridgewater, Norton, Mansfield, Walpole and Norwood,” Justin, the manager at V&R Smoke Shop, said. “I was going to open up another store in Norwood, but the age [to buy vapes] is 21, and I would lose a lot of my customers.”

Many WHS students purchase their vaporizers from V&R Smoke Shop in Norton.

Though the majority of those who vape at WHS are upperclassmen (since they can access products easier once they turn 18), 41.8% are freshmen and sophomores.

“Our most popular product is the Juuls. Kids really buy most of the vape stuff we have since you can’t buy the glass stuff [such as bongs and pipes] until you are 21,” Justin said.

In January, Boston University School of Public Health Professor, Dr. Michael Siegel, visited Westwood High School for an informational night on vaping, specifically Juuls.

“It’s difficult to understand why certain behaviors become popular among teenagers. I think part of the appeal is that the devices look cool, are new, and are an alternative to cigarettes, which young people know are extremely dangerous,” Siegel said.

Health Risks

Vapes were originally created as a way to curb cigarette smoking: the smoker uses juice with decreasing the nicotine levels until they are able to quit smoking altogether. Vapes, however, are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); therefore, there are no ingredient guidelines. As a result, some pods and juices contain things such as metals including lead and nickel, mass amounts of nicotine and flavor chemicals, which can contain respiratory irritants like benzaldehyde and vanillin.

“In these flavored cartridges, they claim it’s just water, but they contain so many different metals that can really affect your lungs,” Walpole High School Nurse Rachel Jackson said. “You’re basically inhaling lead, chromium, magnesium, aluminum and nickel.”

Naked, a brand of vape juice sold at Justin's V&R Smoke Shop.

37.5% of students who vape said that they do so many times per day. When asked if they were concerned with the health risks of vaping, 54% of vapers answered no.

“There’s this misnomer that vapes are a lot healthier or safer than cigarettes, but if I had to choose between breathing fresh air or breathing vape juice, I’m going to pick fresh air.” -Stephen Imbusch, WHS Principal

“Sometimes I do get concerned about the health risks because I already have trouble running from when I started vaping due to the effects on your lungs,” Emily, an athlete whose abilities to perform have decreased as a result of her vape usage, said.

Though there are currently no studies confirming the long-term effects, doctors speculate some of the potential effects may include lung cancer, “popcorn lung” (scarring of the lung air sacs) and heart disease.

“The government is definitely feeling the heat and knowing that they really need to amp up their efforts to regulate the vaping and do some more research as to what the real effects are,” Jackson said.

Because of the nicotine in many of the pods used by students, addiction is a potential risk, particularly for younger children. In fact, 49.6% of WHS students who vape admitted to using high levels of nicotine in their vapes. Depending on the levels of nicotine in each pod, some can contain enough to equate to a pack of cigarettes in just one hit.

“Vaping probably diminishes athletic and academic performance in my opinion. I find it dangerous because it’s recent and we have no information on long-term complications.” -Anonymous Survey Respondent

“I initially liked vaping because it was a good stress reliever and made me feel better. However, my vaping got to the point where I was worried about my health and even addicted to it, so that’s why I got rid of mine,” Mike* said.

Reactionary phases, as shown above, often critique the growing vape culture.

53% of survey respondents from Walpole High who vape own a Juul, and 49.6% use juice containing the highest levels of nicotine possible, such as 50 mL, which is equivalent to smoking 25 packs of cigarettes per bottle of juice. Juul pods, however, are only available with high nicotine levels; therefore, users have no option but to vape with 50 mL of nicotine.

“Juuls have the highest nicotine delivery of any electronic cigarette, and therefore it has the highest addictive potential,” Siegel said. “I don’t think addiction is a major problem with the other types of electronic cigarettes on the market because their nicotine delivery is quite poor, but the Juul is different. In terms of the pattern of nicotine absorption into the blood, it mimics that of a real cigarette.”

Despite the addictive component of nicotine, students who only socially vape may not think they vape enough to become addicted.

“Most kids will tell me that they’re not addicted and that they could quit immediately if they had to, and my advice is to quit now because once you’re addicted, trying to get off is so much more difficult. Right now if you think you could put your vape away and never touch it again, why wouldn’t you?” Imbusch said.

Administrative Reaction

Originally, administration gave a student caught vaping a detention on the first offense; however, this year, administration decided to issue a suspension on the first offense in hopes of deterring students from doing it again. In accordance with the parent-student handbook, students are also given a chemical health violation.

“I have never walked into the bathroom and not seen girls vaping,” Anna* said.

WHS English Teacher Christine Giblin discourages vaping on her bathroom passes.

51.3% of survey respondents who admitted to vaping have vaped in the school bathrooms before; consequently, administration has increased the amount of monitoring this year to control the number of students who vape during times such as lunch and snack.

“I think there are a lot more girls that are doing it than we are catching. I think it would be beneficial if we had more teachers monitoring the bathrooms because it’s hard to just have one person doing it when it’s so frequent,” WHS Vice Principal Lee Tobey said.

A few of the over 30 vaporizers confiscated by WHS administration this year.

Within the past year, the principal and vice principals have seen a change not only in the number of students vaping while in school, but in the circumstances they do so. Unlike cigarettes, vaporizers emit small clouds of flavored scent that dissipate much more rapidly than cigarette smoke; therefore, catching students who are vaping is more difficult.

“Since it’s odorless or smells like candy or fruit, it’s a lot easier for kids to go into the bathroom,” Jackson said. “They’re also a lot smaller and easier to hide than something like a pack of cigarettes, which also have a very distinctive smell.”

“Education should be provided about vaping, not just scare tactics. It just makes people want to vape more and does nothing but worsen the drug problem.” -Anonymous Survey Respondent

Due to the size and discrete nature of many of the newer vapes like Juuls, students do not feel the need to hide them and often will use them in open spaces, such as the back of the classroom or in the bathroom.

“The most surprising thing I’ve noticed about students vaping is the brazen nature, in which they bring it to school or use it out in the open in the bathroom. There’s no attempt to hide any of it, and I don’t understand it, but I am shocked each time,” Tobey said.

Just a Fad?

Although the future of vaping remains uncertain, the trend may follow in the footsteps of cigarette smoking. Currently, there are no long term studies connecting health problems to heavy vape use, but researchers are working along lawmakers to study and regulate vaping. Soon, Massachusetts and national laws could catch up with stores, such as Justin’s, to raise the age of purchase or limit the types of products sold. Similarly, much like how rules prohibiting cigarette use evolved over the years, WHS’ code of conduct has had to adapt to vaping on school grounds.

These movements to restrict vape usage only characterize one half of the conflict as many students enjoy the social aspect of vaping with friends, the nicotine “buzz” and even the calming benefits for anxiety. A vape culture has developed at WHS, but much like the decrease of cigarette smoking over the past 20 years, vape may not be here to stay.

Various WHS students use their vaporizers.

“It’s difficult to predict whether vaping is just a fad that will eventually fade out or whether it is here to stay. Based on the data from the last two years, I suspect that vaping is starting to fade a bit. However, I don’t know what’s going to happen with Juuling,” Siegel said.

Vape is a topic encompassed by the current lack of regulations, the differing viewpoints between adults and teenagers and the growing issue of usage in schools. Whether the words “very berry” spur thoughts of Stop & Shop or Justin’s V&R Smoke Shop, one thing is for certain: vape culture has made its mark at Walpole High School.

*Names have been changed to protect the students’ identities.

Created By
Lindsey Sullivan, Callie Ross, and Jessica Ferguson


Created with images by Jaclyn Moy - "untitled image"

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