E-cigs: Smoke the loot, get the boot

Brandon Campbell, Reporter

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) are portable vaporizers that fabricate traditional cigarette smoking. Easily concealable, e-cigs have become a go-to alternative for cigarettes amongst many tobacco users including high schoolers. While their initial purpose may have been to alleviate an addiction to a tobacco product such as cigarettes, they are now being used to consume more harmful substances than simple flavored nicotine liquids. 

The first commercial appearance of e-cigs was made in 2004 in China. E-cigs were later exported from China to other countries, including the United States, beginning in 2005. E-cigs’ high growth potential had tobacco companies looking to find ways to infiltrate different markets. Tobacco companies were right in believing that there would be a developing industry in e-cigs; sales of e-cig devices increased from 50,000 in 2008 up to 3.5 million in 2012.

 Much of the reason behind the e-cigs’ rapid growth in popularity is due to the decreased severity of the health ramifications that e-cigs carry. With regular cigarettes, companies could put in various additives without the buyers knowing. With e-cigs however, it is more difficult for manufacturers to put additives into the liquids unbeknownst to the user. Also, through cigarette smoking, a smoke containing all of the chemicals found inside the product is inhaled which has been proven to have very adverse health effects, especially if done consistently over a long period of time. E-cigs differentiate themselves from cigarettes in that they produce a smokeless aerosol that’s said to be less harmful than cigarette smoke.

Gain in popularity of e-cigs amongst adolescents is not generally a result of their health consequences, rather it stems from their novelty and uniqueness of how they can be used. A senior, Andy Brewer, spoke of what gives them appeal.

“You’re able to add flavoring,” Brewer said, “They’re kind of the new thing.”

While the process of using an e-cig has generally been seen as healthier than using traditional cigarettes, the versatility of the device has made way for abuse of it’s initial purpose. A typical e-cig uses an atomizer to heat a liquid to evaporation. Nearly any liquid can be put into an e-cig and produce vapor. This has been taken note of by users and potential users who might want to consume more harmful substances through an e-cig device. One substance that has already begun to be used in an e-cig are dabs. Dabs are odorless hash oils that contain 75% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, chemical that induces a high) by nature. Hash oils are essentially oils extracted from cannabis plants.

Many e-liquids are relatively odorless. Couple that with the smokeless vapor that e-cigs produce they are easy to obscure when used in public. The notion of the device’s secrecy has appealed to high school students who would previously smoke cigarettes in hiding outside of school. E-cigs have thus permitted high school smokers to use their devices in the confines of school campus without being detected. Brewer spoke of the discreteness of the device.

“They don’t have a very stenchy smell,” Brewer said, “Especially in comparison to cigarettes.” 

The job that school’s face in controlling drug usage on campus is made more difficult by e-cigs. With few national health regulations made for e-cigs there is not much to go by in how e-cigs should be handled at school. The Peninsula School District has begun to enforce a policy on e-cigs that is quite different from regular cigarettes. Vice Principal Mark Nickels explains why there is less tolerance for e-cigs.

“Because of the variety of things that can be put in an e-cig, they are now considered drug paraphernalia,” Nickels said. “There’s no telling what’s in it.”

A student caught smoking a cigarette faces a first time suspension of one day, then three to five days and so on; e-cigs used to be treated in the same manner as cigarettes. Because they are now considered drug paraphernalia, a student caught using an e-cig will now face a suspension of 15 days along with their device being confiscated.

The district’s policy seems to be working in persuading students from using e-cig devices on school campus. While it may be early in the school year, Vice Principal Melissa McNeish has not noticed greater amounts of students caught using e-cigs on campus in comparison to last year.

“This year I would have to say I haven’t seen increased usage,” McNeish said. “Last year it was becoming more of a noticeable issue.”

While it can not be concurred as to whether or not the district’s new regulations on e-cig usage has been effective in lowering cases of high schoolers taking part in the practice of aerosol inhalation via an e-cig device on campus, the new policy still stands, and Nickels states it simply.

“The bottom line is,” Nickels said. “There’s no place for them here.”