Cigarette smoking is down, but vaping is on the rise—and it’s making students sick

By: | August 22, 2019
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Here’s a good news/bad news story. According to both the California Student Tobacco Survey and the California Healthy Kids Survey, cigarette smoking has reached a historic low among Los Angeles area high school students. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that those same surveys found that e-cigarette use, or vaping, is on the rise among teens.

And, while students—and many adults—tend to think vaping is safer than smoking, it is causing real concerns in the medical community as a growing number of people are developing serious pulmonary illnesses related to e-cigarettes. Last month, for example, 8 teens from southeastern Wisconsin were hospitalized with extreme cough, shortness of breath and fatigue, caused by vaping.

Doctors have long understood that cigarette smoking can cause a variety of illnesses, from lung cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease to heart disease and diabetes. But vaping, as we know it today, is still a relatively new “pastime,” which gained popularity with the first e-cigarettes, introduced in 2003.

As such, it is too early for doctors to know all the potential long-term health consequences, but there is little question that vaping affects the vascular system, even when the “vape juice” doesn’t contain nicotine or flavoring, according to new research. And, that “juice” often contains some of the same toxic chemicals found in smoke from traditional cigarettes.

With concern growing, schools are doing what they can to curb e-cigarette use. Administrators named vaping one of their biggest concerns in a recent District Administration K12 Reader Survey, ranking it higher (49%) than even opioid use (45%).

As they once did for cigarettes, administrators have closed or increased monitoring of school bathrooms. They have sent students for drug tests. They have banned JUUL vape devices that resemble USB thumb drives. Some schools have even installed sensors that can detect the vapor in bathrooms, locker rooms and other areas where cameras are prohibited, and where students are likely to vape.

Tim Goral is senior editor.