Vaping: The addictive epidemic ravaging Kentucky schools


Nathan Mueller

Edited image of a vape in front of Highlands High School.

     Within the halls of Highlands High School lies an invisible parasite, in which classmates and friends may have been or still be affected. As the teen vaping epidemic spreads throughout the school, HHS administrators work together to stop this infestation in its tracks.

     What is the problem?

     In 2018, according to the Truth Initiative, America’s largest nonprofit related to stopping the teen vaping epidemic, released a troubling report, stating that teenagers ages 15 to 17 are 16 times more likely to vape than older individuals between the ages of 25 to 34.

     In an article from WFMY News, which is located in Greensboro, North Carolina, FDA inspectors caught local stores illegally selling vapes to minors 199 times over a three-year time span. 

     According to Kentucky Youth and advocate Abbi Stratton, many students hear classmates discussing how their older siblings buy them vapes.   

     Many states, including Kentucky, Iowa, Indiana, have recently increased the age requirement to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

     Even with this change the unstoppable force that is teen vaping has not slowed down, in fact in 2020, according to News in Health, the numbers of minors vaping have increased.

     “Personally, I believe vaping is bad for you, and I wouldn’t do it but I can’t make that choice for others,” said Sophomore Joel Lippolis.

     What are the health risks?

     According to HHS Health Teacher Micheal Code, the main issue with vaping is that it is originally a liquid that is then being turned into an aerosol. 

     “When you aerosolize it, this substance gets into the lungs and causes inflammation. The inflammation that traps fluid in and your lungs aren’t used to that.”

     That’s a huge problem because it can allow bacteria to build up and damage the lungs. 

     Unfortunately, it’s not a simple problem to fix because nicotine, a chemical used in vapes, is highly addictive, according to Code.

     “You will hear people say that smoking calms them down, well physiologically that’s impossible, it’s a stimulant, that wouldn’t calm you down, it would speed you up.” 

     Code offered this simple explanation for this addiction.

      “[Your brain] has been hijacked by nicotine addiction, and when you don’t have it, you get that anxious feeling, you get that uneasy, that jittery feeling when you smoke or vape, in this case, the nicotine fits into those receptor sites and it does give them a calming sensation.” 

     How has this happened? 

     According to Code, tobacco companies deliberately target minors.

     “One of the real problems that we have with vapes is that the tobacco company has targeted it at kids. When they get kids hooked, they have the possibility of having a five-decade-long customer.”

     Vape companies have changed to a younger demographic, using a highly controversial marketing technique, according to Code. 

     “They have flavors like fruity pebbles and things, those aren’t appealing to adults, no one my age wants to smoke something called cotton candy, that’s appealing to kids.”

      While these flavors have been banned, Code pointed out a loophole in the law.

     “They passed a law in 2020 that limited some of those flavors but those flavors are still available in disposables. So as long as it’s a disposable they can still market those flavors, which can be used to target kids.”

     Unfortunately, this gets worse.

     “Teens get addicted far more than older people because of their developing brains,” Code stated.

     The human brain doesn’t develop until the age of 25, and in that time children are more susceptible to things such as addiction and developmental issues.

     According to Code, these aren’t new companies just making a product.

     “Companies like Mark 10, Vuse, those are all owned by Marlboro, Camel, Newport, those are big tobacco companies, so they’ve simply switched their method of marketing to now target kids”

     Tobacco companies target a demographic that is more vulnerable to their products and are more likely to be long-time customers, at the expense of their consumer’s health.

      What has the response been?

     Schools all around the country have employed different methods to combat the epidemic, such as vape detectors and cameras. HHS has also started to respond.

     According to HHS Principal John Darnell, HHS has also begun to respond.

    “So when it comes to the effort to stop it’s really just students being responsible and smart enough to take care of their community.”

     School administrators have always struggled with how to combat the problem, according to Darnell.

     “One of the issues with vaping is that it can be done very sneakily, it’s not something that’s out in the forefront. Students can hide it, as you can hide it in a shirt, then you can breathe the vapor out in a shirt, or  you can be in the bathroom and no one would notice.”

     Lippolis offered this as an alternative to traditional methods of response.

     “A way that could work is just scaring students in their health class by showing what is dangerous about vapes and what they do to people over time.”

     What can students do for their friends?

      Students who want to help their addicted counterparts may not know how to help, or even how to know if a friend is addicted.

      According to Code, vaping is an addiction, which is a brain disease, making quitting not just about willpower. 

      “It’s a condition and they are probably going to need some help. The earlier you can intervene the better, as addiction is like cancer, the earlier you get involved the easier it is to stop, and if worst comes to worst, go to their parents.”

     Like many other issues, a friend may get mad if someone they know tells an adult, as nicotine is a hard habit to get rid of, but even so, telling is ultimately worth it. Their health has to come before their wishes especially if their wishes are being influenced by a big tobacco company.

     Unfortunately, big tobacco companies are targeting a vulnerable demographic to make a profit at the expense of minors’ health and safety, despite these companies not admitting to doing so. 

     It is a hard epidemic to stop and is nearly impossible for already overwhelmed administrators and teachers to spot.