At least 85 percent of students believed to be vaping

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Some of the leaders of the Prairie du Chien High School student council sat down Friday morning to talk about trends in vaping among their peers. Pictured (from left) are Riley Hubanks, Clare Teynor, Gabby Toberman, Hunter Davis, Elizabeth Tesar and Joseph Gourdin. (Photo by Correne Martin)

Editor’s note: We are aware of a related situation that occurred involving Prairie du Chien High School students Friday afternoon. This article is not reactionary to these circumstances. In fact, interviews were already conducted and the story was planned for today’s paper, prior to what transpired.

By Correne Martin

Six student council members at Prairie du Chien High School feel 85-90 percent of their peers are vaping. 

They believe it’s an epidemic and are upset that their friends and classmates are doing it. Even though they choose not to engage in this trend themselves, these six students know a lot about it, simply because “it’s everywhere.” Not only do they realize its short-term and long-term health effects are unknown at this point, but they also see it affecting all students around the high school. 

Vaping, as well as using and possessing certain related contents, is against district policy, according to section 1063 of Prairie du Chien’s school board policy on student use of intoxicants, drugs or paraphernalia. 

Also referred to as using electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, vaping involves using a handheld electronic device that simulates the experience of smoking a cigarette. Vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, Juuls, hookah pens and e-pipes are some of the many terms used to describe electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), according to the Food and Drug Administration. These products use an e-liquid that may contain nicotine, as well as varying compositions of flavorings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and other ingredients—even THC—explains the FDA. The liquid is heated to create an aerosol, or vapor, that the user inhales. 

“No one smokes cigarettes any more,” said junior Joseph Gourdin, of the traditional tobacco product. 

“These (e-cigs) are the ‘cigarettes’ of this generation,” remarked sophomore Clare Teynor. 

The teenage group estimated that 30-40 percent of their peers smoke marijuana. Still, it’s the vaping statistics they wish would decline. 

So what’s the attraction to vaping?

“Kids think it’s just water vapor (that they’re inhaling). It’s a thrill,” shared senior Hunter Davis, understanding that e-cigs can also contain toxins. 

“They know they shouldn’t be doing it but they can get their hands on it better than other things,” Gourdin commented. 

Junior Elizabeth Tesar thinks it’s the marketing that companies, such as the popular and stylish Juul and Suorin, have targeted toward youth. Though that marketing is veering away from teens, these devices are still attractive to youth. 

Ultimately, the six students concluded that the biggest reason behind their generation vaping is peer pressure, seeing that “everyone is doing it.” 

Where are they getting it?

Students are accessing these products by buying online, getting a friend or sibling who’s 18 to purchase them, or, in some cases, they are indeed buying them at local convenience and retail stores, according to these high schoolers. 

“Some local stores allow it,” Gourdin stated. “They just want you to show them any ID. It doesn’t matter if it’s yours.”

How is vaping being done so openly?

Many ENDS are manufactured to look like conventional cigarettes, but a great deal of them resemble pens or USB flash drives, as the FDA describes.

Teynor suggested that the compact size and similar appearance to everyday high school objects make the devices easier to hide than other drugs. “They can keep it in their pocket, socks, bra strap, boots,” she said. 

The teachers and staff know about it, according to Gourdin. Yet, the majority of the teens aren’t getting caught. 

Tesar said, “They know students are going to the bathroom and pulling out their e-cigs, but they can’t do anything about it unless they actually see it happening.”

Junior Gabby Toberman hinted that, this year, there was “a list going around among the teachers” including the names of Prairie du Chien High School’s potential student vape consumers.

These reasons may be part of the logic behind why high school students are sneaking them into classrooms, hallways, buses, their lockers and the bathrooms.

Riley Hubanks, a sophomore, said, just last week, she watched a classmate, who was sitting behind her in class, drop a pencil, and when two kids leaned over to pick it up, “they switched the vape right in class.”

“There’s no shame,” quipped Toberman. “They even bend down in the back of class or turn around at the back of the room.”

Gourdin said the scent from vape products isn’t as obvious as cigarette smoke either. Though, the teens agreed vaping often gives off a distinct fruity fragrance or a minty Chap Stick smell, because of the different flavorings used.

While these student council members have noticed their peers attempting to conceal e-cig use, they know that, for some, their actions are quite “out in the open.”

“It’s literally talked about out loud, like ‘I’ll give you $5 for a vape,’ right in the hallway,” Teynor shared. 

Toberman pointed out that some students post right on Instagram or Snapchat that they’re seeking devices or pods. 

It’s the minority just saying no

Davis said he’s never had anyone ask him to vape. He thinks it’s because other students just know he’s not the type of kid who would be interested. 

That seemed to be the consensus among his five counterparts when analyzing the issue. For most of them, the difference between “right and wrong” has been instilled in them since they were young children, and those non-conforming morals are part of who they’ve grown up to be.  

“My parents have put it out there for me, and everyone just knows I wouldn’t do it,” Hubanks stated. 

“I feel more proud than nervous when I say ‘no,’” Toberman added. 

These students might manage to refrain from peer pressure, but the high number of their peers who’ve caved means that it’s not just the stereotypical teens using or even trying e-devices. It’s the sports kids, the college-bound, the club members and the quiet kids. Many don’t do it all of the time, but some are on the other end of the spectrum and find themselves addicted.

A growing problem

Vaping is even showing up at the middle school level, Toberman noted. 

“Some kids on my little brother’s eighth grade team were suspended for it. My biggest fear is that he gets pressured,” she revealed. 

“You wouldn’t expect middle schoolers to be exposed to this, but they are,” Teynor continued.

Gourdin believes e-cigarettes are addictive and a gateway drug. In fact, he said he knows “a kid who’s tried other substances.”

“It’s really disappointing when you find out a friend is doing it. You think they’re better than that, but then you’re really thrown off,” he said. “It may not be marijuana or cocaine but it could lead to that.”

“It lowers your level of respect for them—a lot,” Hubanks confessed. “Like, I’ll talk to them, but I don’t wanna be associated with them anymore.”

Toberman agreed, “It really upsets me when someone has so much potential and then you hear they’ve done it. I get sick to my stomach thinking about it.”

The consequences

The jury is still out on what health problems may be caused by vaping nicotine, other chemicals—and, in locally reported cases, alcohol and other unintended contents.

“I know a kid who did this before it was ‘cool’ and he got popcorn lung and is already finding it difficult to breathe,” Toberman shared. “Another thing I know is really dangerous is the coils in the devices have been exploding in people’s faces or in their pockets too.” 

Gourdin also pointed out that one of his Biomedical Innovations classmates conducted a study on the topic—making sure participants were 18—and found that vaping does affect the lungs.

Tesar expounded that it’s not just the physical effects that concern her. “It’s also mentally and emotionally impacting,” she said. 

The fact that medical researchers don’t fully know all the potential harm that vaping can do to people’s bodies is a problem in itself. Because there’s that lack of proof, Teynor said, her peers aren’t just going to give it up—be it a habit or social drug.

Furthermore, even though there’s that 10-15 percent of students who’ve never even tried vaping, the consequences of it possibly happening in and around the school are being felt by everyone. 

“Even though I don’t vape, I can’t go to the bathroom without signing out of class,” Tesar  said. 

When the school has had one of its three or four non-emergency lockdowns this year, according to Tesar, every student’s time has essentially been wasted, even if they weren’t the culprits.

“We have to just sit in the room we were in. We can’t even go to the next class or use the bathroom,” she explained. “If we’re in the bathroom, we have to just stay there. To leave the building, we’d have to be escorted out by police.”

What can be done?

The student council members personally wish they could do more. But they’ve acted very carefully themselves about starting a student organization against drugs and alcohol, because they don’t exactly know how to face the vaping problem, other than talking about it and bringing awareness to it. 

They’d like to see the school district determine a more specific punishment. They encourage more discussion about it schoolwide and in the community. 

The kids also feel parents need to open their eyes wider. 

“Some parents are oblivious to it,” Teynor said. “They know it’s bad but they don’t believe how bad it really is.”

“It’s not that they think it’s OK; they don’t wanna believe it’s their kid doing it,” Gourdin declared. 

Tesar concluded, “Even though it’s hard, parents can’t always trust what their kids say.”

Several of the students who spoke about vaping felt the same way. But, they proudly revealed, they talk to their parents “about everything.”

“Probably too much sometimes,” Hubanks laughed. 

But that trust, as well as awareness, education and consequences are a good start in combatting this latest “burning” issue. It’s a problem that these teens aren’t shy about examining.

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