Investigation: lost in the vapor

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Investigation: lost in the vapor

Art by Avery Simmons (RHS Sophomore)

Art by Avery Simmons (RHS Sophomore)

Art by Avery Simmons (RHS Sophomore)

Art by Avery Simmons (RHS Sophomore)

Matthew Drachman, Assistant Editor

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In the past few years, vaping has become a massive problem among minors.  According to the 2016 National Tobacco Survey more than about 1.7 million highschool students and 500,000 middle school students had vaped at least once in the 30 day period before the survey was taken.  The same survey found that vaping had increased more than 900% in high schools and middle schools from 2011 to 2015.


The FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) can reinforce these numbers, saying that this year had seen a 50% increase among middle schoolers and an 80% increase among high schoolers. This massive increase in vaping among minors has been called by some “a public health crisis.”  It makes you wonder: why it is happening? Which is what this investigation is going to try and answer


Now to make something clear, the point of this investigation is not to expose or to bring hate towards these teens who vape, but to find out the reasoning behind it.  Only then can we address the issue. Now having said that, no conversation about teenage vaping can exclude the fact of it’s illegality.


The Illegality and Health Issues of Teenage Vaping


E-cigs are a fairly recent invention (In terms of the devices we now see. The idea itself can be traced back hundreds of years with the first hookahs). They were first invented as a substitute to try and get smokers off cigarettes, to help them quit altogether. Due to their fairley recent birth, there is a grey area in terms of laws and regulations on them. As well as a blank area when it comes to research on them.


According to the FDA, a singular Juul Pod (which is a prefilled cartridge that comes with the “vape juice” to vape for a Juul Device) contains about as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes.  However, to bring some context to that, a singular Juul pod is relative on that. Say that a pod is 5%, that is equal to about 20 cigarettes. Compared to another pod that is 3% nicotine, it would be around 10-12 cigarettes.


As stated before, there is a lack of information on the full effects of vaping on teens due to the recency of it.  However, we can look at the chemicals and find that there is some nasty stuff in there.


According to the company Juul on the warning labels that they now put on their products, the chemicals that are in their products have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other reproductive problems.


A 2015 Harvard Study found that 49 out of the 51 e-liquids tested had such a chemical within them.


Another issue comes up with the flavoring of the products.  A common chemical that is used in flavoring “vape juice” is a chemical known as Diacetyl.  Now this chemical, when inhaled, has been known to cause a lung condition known as “Popcorn Lung”, or otherwise known as Bronchiolitis Obliterans.  This condition is the obstruction of the smallest airways, the bronchioles, due to inflation.  This condition can also be caused by other chemicals used to flavor the different kinds of special flavors found in Juuls and other vape products.


The same study found that 56 kinds of e-cigs tested also had toxic metals in the aerosol (which is the stuff you breath in when you vape).  Metals such as Chromium, Nickel, Zinc, and Lead. There is no healthy level of lead.


Now, all of the the effects I’ve mentioned thus far are universal, as in they would apply to everyone who uses a vape.  But let’s look at what little information we do know about the unique effects it has on teenagers.


According to a report by the Surgeon General of the United States, teenagers who vape can have the following health risks:


  • Increase possibility of addiction
  • This means that it would be harder for them to kick off an addiction to vaping or to other substances.  When the brain is first developing, it is not as hardened as a adult mind can be. So when a young person does vape, cigarettes, or other drugs, it is harder for them to stop.  Addiction happens faster
  • Threat to long term brain development
  • The part of the brain that is responsible for decision making is not fully developed at adolescence.  Studies that have been conducted by the Surgeon General have found that vaping can hurt this part of the brain and stunt its development along with other parts of the brain.


      • Teenage vaping has also been linked to mood disorders and lower impulse control
      • Vaping can also change the way that the brain’s synapses are formed which can harm the part of the brain that controls attention and learning.


  • Development to respiratory health
  • Vaping with teenagers has also been linked to how your lungs form, and can damage them early on.  
  • 2nd hand vapor can also be harmful to others around you
  • Just like with 2nd hand smoke, 2nd hand vapor can also be much more harmful to those around someone who vapes than just the vapor itself.
  • For teens, it can lead to other drugs such as Marijuana
  • Vaping has been linked to being a gateway for other drugs for a teenager.



An interesting fact as well, this same report found that some chemicals found in vape aerosols are also found in car exhaust.


In recent months, the FDA has announced a new ban on these flavored products in an effort to try and combat the vaping craze with teens (this is a topic we will get into later).  In response to this new ban, Greg Conley, who is the president of the American Vaping Association, had this to say during an interview with CNN, “The regulation that the FDA have proposed is not regulation, but it is a prohibition of 99% of products on the market today.”


Many critics of regulation on vapes have stated that vapes are safer than cigarettes; however, an argument can be made to say that anything is safer than cigarettes.


Now, there is also the Legality of all of this.  I spoke to Deputy Sheriff Officer Loevlie who filled me in on some consequences for being caught with vape products.


“Well there are two sides of it, my side and the school side.  On my side, when you are found with it, you get a citation (which is a ticket) for tobacco, which is around 250$.  There is also a sentence of 5 hours of community service.”


He laters goes on to say about the school punishments, “On the school side there can be a 3 day suspension, on the 3rd offense you get assigned a probation officer, and you also have to attend a tobacco class.”  This is later enforced when I talked to Mrs. Gough, who is the Principle of Riverton High School, “vapes are seized, parents are called, and depending on how many infractions, they can get a citation.” She later commented on the enforcement of the vaping rules, “It’s not okay to have it on school property.  It’s a law [not to have it on public grounds]! Plus, you are a minor.”


Now, with context of both health and the law, I can tell you why I have the question that I do now.  Why do teens vape despite all of this? Because it is a lot more common than you might think.


How Common Teenage Vaping Is


According to the same reports by the FDA, about 1 in 5 kids surveyed had vaped at least once in the past month.  When I mentioned this statistic to Officer Loevlie, he told me, “That sounds about right. Unfortunately, I have around 10 kids here [his office] a week for vaping.”

According to Officer Loevlie, it is even worse in some other areas of the valley, saying that at another school it was more around 1 in 2.  Officer Loevelie talked about how bad he thinks the problem is at RHS, “I think the problem is very bad.” He later says, “You know I had a kid in here one time, who told me, ‘Loevlie, if you only knew how many kids carry vapes, you would be amazed.’”


Principle Gough commented on the problem as well, saying, “I wouldn’t say that it is a major problem, but it is definitely a problem.”


Among students, vaping seems to be something that just goes on that everyone hears and knows about. I got the chance to interview Becca Frischknecht, who is the Vice President of the Junior Class Officers.  One of the question I asked her was if she knew anyone personally who vapes. She responded by saying, “Yes I do, and I would think that everyone knows at least one person who vapes.  It’s pretty common now.”


I can agree with that.  I mean I know many people here at RHS who vape, and even more who have at least tried it.  The problem itself goes far and wide.


Which begs the question, how do teens actually get their hands on their e-cig devices?


How Teens Obtain E-Cig Devices


There are many devices that teens use in regards to vaping. Some use things called box mods while the most common are the small Juul devices that can be described by some as “easy to conceal”.  In the interviews that I had conducted with Mrs. Gough and Officer Loevlie, both had pointed towards local smoke shops. Mrs. Gough saying, “I think it is mainly the smoke shops who sell to minors.  It’s illegal and can get their shops shut down.” She would later go on to say, “I think it’s a huge issue. I mean it’s illegal! You can get your license taken away. They are pushing an addictive substance onto kids because they know they can make more money.  It’s wrong!”


When I interviewed Officer Loevlie he confirmed that this happens.  He told me that he had more than 15 individual testimonies against a particular shop in Riverton.


I decided to call up several shops in the Riverton City area, including the one in question.  The shop in question had declined to comment on the matter by hanging the phone up on me. However, other smoke shops in the area that have good standings with the city were very kind and willing to talk to me.


One such shop was Vapor Craziness.  AJ, whom is the manager of the store, had agreed that some stores sometimes sold to teens, saying, “It’s those sketchy smoke shops that do it. The ones that sell bongs and the other local convenience stores that sell vapes.” He later goes on to say, “I mean, it’s because they do not I.D. people. Some stores also have a ring of people they know and they just sell too.” He also mentioned how online sales have lead to a lot of kids getting their mods as well.  He went on to say, “I mean it is illegal now in Utah, but shipping of vapes online has lead to a lot of kids getting a lot of their gear.”


AJ states how his store does things, saying, “To even enter our store you have to be 19, we check your ID on the spot. Then, if we have a reason to suspect that you might be buying for someone else, then we refuse to sell to that individual.”


I also spoke to another local shop, who has asked to have his store’s name left out and asked to be called Isaac. Isaac had mirrored a lot of what AJ said about how some stores don’t ID folks who come in and how he made sure that it was done in his. However, he went on to add, “Kids get it the same way they do with Alcohol. Through their friends, parents, older friends and family members.” He also added on the online sales, “I mean, they banned it, but it still goes on. I mean you can be whoever you want to be on the internet.”


I also asked both managers how they felt about the accusation that e-cig companies are purposely targeting children with candy flavors and other kinds. Both disagreed on that, Isaac saying that he didn’t believe that the companies did it purposely. AJ had said that adults can be responsible and need to be able to have choices when trying to quit smoking.


So teens do have these things in the numbers that the FDA says they do, if not more.  I think this leads me into my first question, why do to teens vape, why the risk, why is it “cool”?


Why Do Teens Want To Vape?


This really depends on the people you ask. I have statements from Mrs. Gough all the way to Hope Squad about why kids would vape. Here are a few of them:


From Isaac, the local manager, “I think kids want to do it because they think it looks cool. They do tricks with it, their friends do it. It all comes back to that.  You know?”


From Mrs. Gough, “Most kids do it because they think it looks cool or that they are curious.”


From Officer Loevlie, “I think kids are doing it because of their peers. It’s the peer pressure and how many kids are doing it now. It also should be considered on how accessible they are.”


From Timothy Horner, whom is a hope squad member, “I think teens are stubborn, I mean we all are. I think that teens think that nothing will happen to them or that it couldn’t happen to them.”


From Becca Frischknecht, “I think that most people vape to be cool or because their friends are doing it etc. It is also because they have the mentality that vaping is not as bad as smoking so it’s ‘okay,’ but there are people who believe that the nicotine in it can help with stress, anxiety, and depression, but sadly they are mistaken.”


I even asked one of our local lawmakers, Dan McCay, about why he thinks teens vape, “There isn’t one answer why people vape. In high school, it was common for people to smoke even though people knew it was addicting and causing cancer. Peer pressure does play a part in why some do it for sure.”


There are a lot of opinions on the matter, but really, why do people want to do something that one friend of mine described as “breathing in fire!” when she tried it for the first time?  Well none of these folks could really answer my question more truthfully, than a teen who actually does vape, so that is what I did.


I sat down and talked to a person whom we will be calling Amy. She currently vapes and was willing to answer my questions.  I started by asking her some personal questions


“Why did you start vaping?  Was it through a friend, were you curious, or was it through other means?”  I asked.


“I don’t know, I saw my friends doing it and I was curious so I tried it.”  She says.


“When you vape, how do you feel?”


“When you take enough, you feel dizzy and out of the world. It feels good. It helped me with my stress.”


“Why do you personally vape?”


“I don’t know, I just like they way it made me feel and the effects look ‘cool’”


I decided to take a different another approach.  I decided to ask her about how vape has been called a gateway to things worse.


“Before or after you started vaping, did you do or did you start doing drugs that either lead you to try or introduced you to afterwards?  Things like weed, shrooms, alcohol, other tobacco products?”


“After I was 16, vaping lead me to smoking weed, alcohol as well. Everything came after I started vaping.”


I also decided to ask about the flavored mods to see how she felt.


“When you vaped, do you use any flavored mods or other such products and if so what’s your flavor?”  I asked.


“Yes, mint and methanol, fruity flavors, hazelnut, things like that.”


“Do you think that tobacco or e-cig companies target children with these kind of flavors?”  I asked as a follow up.


“I don’t think so.”  She says, “I don’t think it was intentional.  These are products are meant for adults.”


Now came the topic of how her e-cig device was obtained.


“How did you obtain your e-cig device?”


“I bought it in a store.  There are tons of shops out there that don’t even check for ID’s.”


Now this part of the interview I wanted to be careful on how I asked the questions.  Again, I want to reiterate that I am not attacking these people, but no serious conversation about vaping can come without a talk about the bad sides of it.


“Do you believe that you are addicted?”


“I was, but I could keep off it for like, 2-3 weeks, but there was always the urge.  I can control it though, it really depends on the person.”


“Do you know the harmful effects of vaping?  If so, do you think it could happen to you?” I asked.


“Yep. Absolutely.  I mean, it makes it look cool.”  She said.


“Do you think the administration can do more to help those in needs?”


“Doesn’t matter what you do, kids will keep finding a way to do it.”


“Do you agree with the new FDA regulations on banning flavored e-cigs?”


She had said she agreed with this, “I don’t think kids should be doing it anyways, but we do it.”


In this final part, I wanted to ask a straightforward question. Would they quit?


“Now finally, after this conversation and after all the things we have talked about, will you try to quit or seek help to quit in the future?”


“I will and I would encourage more kids to get off too.”


Amy had a few final notes about punishments that had been suggested by some: one being actual jail time for these individuals, “It is the kids decision, they are responsible.  I think strict punishments would help other people to never try it, but I don’t think it would help the people who are already doing it.”


This leads me into my final section: what can we do?


What Can We Do to Solve the Problem?


Throughout this article, I have sought an answer to a question.  Now that I have my answer, what do we do? To be honest, that is not a simple problem that can be patched or fixed with duct tape and chicken wire.  It is a very complex issue that involves more than 2.5 million minors every month.


In the many interviews I conducted for this article, I asked what many people thought could be done about this crisis.  Becca had this to say, “I think they [lawmakers and administrators] could incorporate more education on the harm and addiction that comes with vaping because I know when we learned about it in health I learned a lot more about it and didn’t ever want to do it or let others get caught up in that.”


She later goes on to say what the RHS student body could do about the issue: “I think we all could develop the mindset and attitude that vaping is not something that we should be doing and to try to eliminate the peer pressure to do things like that, focusing mainly on the positive things.”


Throughout my interviews, that seemed to be the reoccuring answer; education.  Officer Loevlie would concur with what Becca said, saying, “We need more education on the dangers and health risks of it.”  Officer Loevlie also agreed with the sentiment of some vapors that the reason some of them vape is because of stress and depression.


The smoke shop manager that I had spoken to also weighed in on the issue.  AJ, from Vapor Craziness, when asked about it, he proposed, “regulation on mix retailers.  You know the more sketchier stores. Have e-cigs sold only at vape shops.”  Isaac from another local shop said, “I mean, anything you did would have to work the same way on things like alcohol.”


I mentioned earlier in this article that I had interviewed a local lawmaker by the name of Dan McCay.  Dan McCay is our local representative in the 41st representative district in the Utah Congress. He is also the senator elect of the 11th senate district in the Utah Congress.  


“What do you think schools can do to help combat the crisis?”  I asked.


“Education is the key.  I mean, at one point, we thought cigarettes were just for relaxing, but we know different now.”  He would later go on to comment that the lack of information has lead a lot of teens to try vaping, saying, “I think for some reason on the lack of information people are just willing to try it.”


“As a Utah lawmaker, what legislation do you think could be passed that could help the problem?”


“I am not sure.  Stricter penalties and punishments on shops who sell to minors is something that we have looked at.” He says, “It starts, however, with the peers.”


I would later go on to ask how federal lawmakers could help in the situation.  He stated, “Having more rules on how e-cigs are marketed. We have made rules on cigarettes so they can not be marketed to kids.  Why not on vapes?” He later says, “We need to all come together to come up with a law that will help.”


The final thing I would ask Dan is what would he say to any kids who did vape?  He responded, “Encourage them, and generally anyone, to avoid things that take control over you.  It’s addictive.”




Throughout this investigation, I have learned a lot about the topic of vaping and the problem of teenage vaping.  From what I have found, the problem stems from a lot of different things.


It seems to me that a lot of teens who do vape do not know the full extent of what they are getting in a vape, and the ones who do, still do it.  Education would help prevent a lot of people getting on vapes. However, it wouldn’t help those who already do it. Stricter penalties would also help as a deterrent, but it would not help the teens who already vape.


I divided these two reasons earlier: why kids start, and why they keep doing it.  The first one is easy to answer. As Isaac, the local smoke shop manager said, “They see it on social media, they see celebrities doing it, and their friends are doing it too.  It is the cool thing to do for them.”


Now, the reasons teens keep vaping varies from person to person.  Some are addicted and can’t stop. Some are surrounded by an environment that encourages it or in an environment that doesn’t discourage it.  Some keep doing it because it gives them an escape from their stressful lives. One student told me vaping, “Is a way for me to escape and feel happy for just a few minutes.  I know the health risks, but I don’t care. I will trade it just to feel happy.” Some people do it just because they can, and want to rebel against a strong household or other reasons.


From all that I have researched and all that I have heard from the people that I have interviewed, I would say the solution firsts starts at home.  Parents, be open and honest to your children about these things. Don’t try to hide or protect your child’s innocence because either way, they will find out and curiosity may overtake any sense of caution.  Lead by example and talk to your children. A lot of kids are just looking for love and affection.


The next thing I would say that needs to be done is laying down very harsh and strict punishments out for people who buy vapes for teens or sell directly to teens.  The fact that some shops will sell to kids that they know are underage, because they can make more money, is troubling and disturbing.


Better education and research on the topic from our schools and institutions could also be beneficial.  Nelson Mandela once said that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  We need to teach and go more in depth into what happens to the teenage brain and the teen body when it is affected by these drugs, as well as better research on the topic.


The final thing I would say is this:  to peers, do not judge the people who do vape.  They have their reasons and you are not perfect either.  Being able to understand and connect to why others live the way they live is the only way to have more conversation and change.  To parents, if a child has been kept in a strong household, judgement will only lead to more distaste and harm in your relationship. Understanding, and advisory, is the only way that you can help your child.  To those who vape, be honest to your parents if you are addicted and need help. Be honest to your school counselors. You have your whole life ahead of you. Are you willing to sacrifice more than 80 years of life, for 80 seconds of good feeling?  If you are stressed or depressed, please seek someone out before turning to a vape pen or a Juul. There is no judgment here, but advice from people who care. In the great worlds of Richard Arvin Overton, who is the oldest living world war two veteran at 112 years old, “I am giving you my secrets to a long life.  If you don’t use them, well, that’s your bad luck.”


I think I have learned a lot about all of this.  I hope I could enrich your minds with new information and new perspectives.


Investigation concluded.