Vape-related deaths rise as epidemic continues

Claire Wittkop, Editor-In-Chief/Web Manager

Vaping has become an epidemic, not only at Laguna Beach High School, but across the country. What started off as a cool trend and an apparently “safer” alternative to smoking cigarettes has quickly become the cause of a deadly lung illness that has been found in over 1,000 teens and young adults. 

“In theory, JUUL initially came out as a way to help people stop smoking cigarettes, but I think that the fact they have them flavored for children really belies the idea that it was ever intended to help people stop smoking. I don’t think any of our students are utilizing JUUL to help them quit smoking cigarettes,” said special ed teacher and Tobacco Use Prevention lead Mindy Hawkins. 

The people affected by this illness are afflicted with shortness of breath, vomiting, chest pains, fatigue and fevers. At least 18 people have died from the illness to date, but hundreds more have been hospitalized. The exact cause of the ailments has not yet been found. Some believe it is caused by a dangerous substance that may have accidentally been leaked into vaping products, but others think that the heavy amount of e-cigarette use is to blame.  

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the vaping trend is that users do n’t always know or care to learn what’s in the vape they are inhaling. Some who end up in the hospital will admit that they can’t remember specifically which product they used that triggered their medical emergencies. With the number of off-brand vaping products finding their way into users’ hands, investigating the root of the health concerns becomes tricky for those investigating the products.

Schools all across the country have attempted to educate their students about the dangers of e-cigarettes, but none to date have been particularly successful.

I don’t know that anything we’ve done really makes a difference. I try to talk about it all the time, we make t-shirts, we take the kids to Disney leadership training, we’ve gone to the middle schools, we have the elementary kids come here, and we hope that maybe that will help but really we want it to be student driven,” said Hawkins, who emphasizes the importance of positive peer influence and open communication among like-aged individuals.

Similar to the Trump administration’s proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes, a citywide ban on flavored tobacco is the goal of Maya Gallego and Tyler Bingham, who recently attended a city council meeting to voice their concerns. These students’ involvement is reminiscent of actions taken by students in 2017 when they proposed the ban of smoking in public spaces in Laguna Beach. 

Teachers are also doing what they can to bring awareness to the harmful effects of vaping. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of teens in 2018 have used an e-cigarette product, which is an alarming reality for health teacher Michelle Foster.

“You can imagine how hard it is to tell kids not to do something when you don’t have the alarming evidence. Now we have concrete data to share in the classroom, that will make students stop and think before they try vaping. The only piece of evidence I had last year was that vaping could make you addicted to nicotine,” said Foster. 

It is becoming more clear that e-cigarette products will cause extreme harm to those who use it. 

“Being addicted to nicotine didn’t scare them, but now, not only can kids get addicted, they could die or up in the hospital,” said Foster.