“My Lungs Started Burning”

3 mins read

Whether it’s in a bathroom stall during brunch or behind the bleachers at a football game, vaping at school is a persistent phenomenon, but not a new one.

The alluring cigarettes of the ‘90s have morphed into fruit-scented plastic pods of highly-addictive nicotine, commonly found in the hands of high school students. Both on and off campus, students huddle together and mindlessly pass around e-cigarettes, taking hits between sentences without a second thought.

In 2023, the FDA reported that 10% of high school students—over 1.56 million teens—currently use e-cigarettes. One in every four of these students reported daily usage. Vaping has become a large aspect of student culture, which has desensitized many teens to its many dangers and made it harder for them to quit.

One anonymous student shared, “I’ll often try to quit but end up continuing because it’s so normalized in my life by other people.” Another student added, “In social settings, people are always openly vaping, and it is tempting to take a hit.”

Although M-A’s administration does its best to stop students from vaping on campus, it’s difficult to combat the issue as many students say their addictions began even before high school.

Many students recognize their addictions starting in 8th grade. “Everyone around me had started owning vapes, and it was something we saw the high schoolers doing, so we wanted to mature in that way,” one student explained.

A considerable portion of students also accredited older siblings as being the first to introduce them. Another student said, “Over one summer, my sisters let me try their cigarettes which automatically desensitized me to nicotine. It just became a normal thing to me.”

The accessibility of vapes also perpetuates their chokehold on teens. A student explained how online “plugs” provide easy delivery. “I would get most of my nicotine from plugs on Snapchat,” she said. “Essentially, you would tell them what you wanted and they would drive to your location and drop it off.”

Using online plugs allows minors to purchase e-cigarettes from their bed with a simple message, as opposed to in stores where they would be ID’d. This quick and convenient process further adds to the desensitization of vaping.

The same student continued, “I know it’s bad for you. The first time my friend and I purchased ‘vapes,’ we got ones from Urban Outfitters that just diffused melatonin, but I remember seeing a 10 for $60 deal on Snapchat of actual nicotine vapes, and I naturally just progressed to purchasing that.” 

Many students understand vaping’s harms and as a result refuse to buy their own e-cigarettes, choosing instead to only use their friends’ devices when hanging out. One student explained, “I won’t buy my own because I’ve seen how my sister’s addiction has impacted her ability to exercise. When I’m in a social setting, however, and people are doing it around me, I always find myself using theirs.”

Whether they choose to own vapes or simply take the occasional hit, all interviewed students agree that they appreciate the wide array of flavors available for purchase. The aforementioned FDA report noted that almost nine out of ten current e-cigarette users use flavored ones, with fruit flavors being the most popular.

One student shared, “I think whenever people are around you with new flavors, you want to try them all, and having a selection of different ones at stores makes it so much more tempting to try them and keep buying.”

Many students also report their addictions hurting athletic performance, such as inducing difficulty breathing when running, lightheadedness, and reduced stamina. “I do notice it affecting my performance and try to do it less during the season, but it’s a spur of the moment thing, and I end up forgetting about my goal,” one student-athlete explained. “I always think that two more hits won’t do anything, and then find myself coughing at practice. Still, I just work to push through it instead of quitting.”

“I always think that two more hits won’t do anything, and then find myself coughing at practice. Still, I just work to push through it instead of quitting.”

Overall, students know the dangers vaping entails and have even faced them firsthand. However, this behavior’s deep integration into social events and student culture causes students to overlook these blatant harms. In addition to nicotine’s inherently-addictive chemical compound, the easy access to e-cigarettes and their intentionally-enticing flavors make quitting all the more difficult. 

One student said, “It’s so hard to quit because when you’re vaping, you don’t see any side effects happening right away, and it seems like there is no real health risk. But when my lungs started burning during exercise and I started coughing more, the effects became real to me, and that’s what finally encouraged me to quit.”

Though strenuous, quitting is possible; students can overcome addictions with dedication and support from peers. The American Lung Association and Smoke Free are two reputable sites that offer strategies for quitting.

Huraman is a junior at M-A and in her first year of journalism. She is excited to write opinion pieces and try her hand at style watch. In her spare time, she enjoys playing lacrosse, traveling, and reading.

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