By HASHEM ANABTAWI, ‘15 and ELLA KOSCHER, ‘15
He itches and squirms in the driver’s seat of his Jeep. One poor decision Anthony* made as a freshman has made his sophomore year a nightmare. Fighting the urge for another cigarette, he instead grabs an electronic cigarette, better known as an e-cig.
Anthony has been trying to quit using cigarettes since his freshman year, and has sought e-cigs to diminish his urge to smoke. E-cigs are cigarette alternatives that have recently grown in popularity among students at UAHS. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the popularity of e-cigs has also grown across the nation.
Smoking e-cigs can lead to both educational and physical consequences.
The CDC wrote that e-cigs are “battery-powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additives to the user.”
Most e-cig cartridges contain nicotine, an aerosol producing component and any combination of many flavorings. Instead of smoke, these mock cigarettes produce water vapor when the user exhales.
Senior Gabby Cannone, who has researched the popularity of drug use among teenagers and other substances for her Capstone, has insight on the substance abuse issue students face.
“It happens everywhere all the time; we all are exposed to it,” Cannone said. “Yet the issue is treated like it is a secret.”
Reasons to use this device vary among student users. For Anthony, it was his addiction to cigarettes that led him to try this alternative.
“Everything about your life becomes, ‘I need a cigarette,’” Anthony said.
Anthony is only one of the thousands of high school students who have experimented with this alternate tobacco product, according to the CDC.
In a 2012 National Youth Tobacco survey, 10 percent of high school students reported that they had tried an e-cig, and the number of users is rising.
Anthony believes most teenagers use e-cigs to fit in rather than for a method to quit smoking standard cigarettes.
“Kids think it’s cool and wantto try out new stuff,” Anthony said. “People try to be cool [but] they don’t really need them.”
Cannone provides what she believes are the main reasons for the growing popularity of cigarettes and e-cigs.
“[These] are a problem because teenagers are seeking acceptance,” Cannone said. “Why [these] have become so acceptable in the eyes of teenagers can be credited to a few things: parents, media and [a] lack of sufficient prevention programs.”
Principal Ryan McClure agrees that substances’ popularity can be traced back to a multitude of causes.
“There’s social pressure, [e-cigs are] everywhere and they’re easy to get,” McClure said. “Businesses have made them readily available to kids, and I’m sure everyone knows a place or what gas station to buy your cigarettes if you’re not of age, or what to do [to get some].”
Desire to use these devices and their relatively easy accessibility can combine to create an environment where e-cigs are a new norm, which Cannone believes is corrupt for the student body.
“UAHS students need to hold themselves to higher standards and realize the consequences of their actions are real and quite possibly permanent,” Cannone said.
Obtaining e-cigs is fairly easy for minors like Anthony.
“You can get them online or at gas stations; I bought [mine] at a store down on North High Street,” Anthony said. “You can also buy them online [because] there’s no real age limit.”
Though obtaining e-cigs is fairly easy and not illegal for minors, McClure and the administration do not tolerate the products use at UAHS.
“[They are] counterproductive to [an] educational life,” McClure said.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, there is no research to support whether or not e-cigs are as detrimental to one’s health as standard tobacco products. McClure, however, said that the use of mock tobacco products has the same disciplinary consequences as the use of tobacco products.
“[Here] e-cigs are treated the same as tobacco products,” McClure said.
With equal consequences, Anthony is just one of multiple students who has been caught using an e-cig during class. This school year, he served a two-day suspension, which he believes he deserved, as he has now learned his lesson.
“I think it was completely stupid to pull [the e-cig] out in class,” Anthony said. “If you’re going to do it, make it about your own business, not during class.”
Prior to his suspension, Anthony would use an e-cig regularly during school hours.
“[I would use it] during the day, when I [was] driving, [and] at lunch,” Anthony said. “I used it once during class but that was it.”
In the case that one does get caught using such devices in class, the administration counters with disciplinary actions.
“We have a typical discipline procedure that we go through and have a conversation with their parents, asking ‘where did they purchase it,’ [and] ‘did they know the student had it,’” McClure said.
School suspensions may not be the only consequence students have for smoking e-cigs. The City of Upper Arlington is proposing restrictive laws to prevent minors from obtaining e-cigs. Currently, this device is easily accessible to customers under the age of 18.
“The sale to minors has exploded throughout central Ohio,” McClure said. “I think central Ohio administrators are seeing them and it has become an issue.”
In most states there are no restrictions on the sale of e-cigs to minors, according to the CDC. The city of Upper Arlington and Columbus, however, is trying to add restrictions on minors when it comes to the sale of these devices.
According to This Week News’ website, “The Upper Arlington City Attorney’s Office has proposed placing the same restrictions against the sale and possession of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to people younger than 18.”
Likewise, the Ohio Congress is in the process of passing House Bill 144 that would also prohibit the sale of such products to minors. The bill has already been passed by the House, according to Jim Siegel of The Columbus Dispatch, and the Ohio Senate will vote on the bill soon.
However, McClure believes the real issue in the rising popularity of e-cigs is a lack of education.
“I think [students need] more education to avoid making a poor choice,” McClure said.
To fulfill this goal, McClure and the city council decided to hire a school resource officer. Though the purpose of the officer is not to directly remove these popular nicotine substances among students, the ultimate goal is to decrease their popularity in the community.
“We will employ a school resource officer and they will work as a UA police officer stationed out in the high school here,” McClure said. “But he’s mainly here to educate as well as for providing safety to the building.”
A goal of the administration and the new police officer is to educate the students about e-cigs as well as other substances. Even though these devices are not illegal, they have no place in an educational setting, according to McClure.
“There’s a lot of other things that affect kids’ behavior worse than e-cigs, but they’re certainly not a good choice,” McClure said.
The use of e-cigs does not only have consequences with the school, but with one’s health as well.
According to Tina Burgess of Examiner.com, the levels of nicotine in e-cigs are capable of killing a child and, like standard cigarettes, this nicotine can be highly addictive.
In a 2009 consumer health brochure created by the FDA, Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg expressed her concerns on these mock cigarette devices.
“The FDA is concerned about the safety of these products and how they are marketed to the public,” Hamburg wrote.
Although Anthony uses e-cigs, he is trying to quit, and he recommends students never get involved with nicotine products or other addictive substances.
“I don’t think [e-cigs] are worth it,” he said. “My advice: just stay free of everything.”