In recent years, the use of e-cigarettes, more commonly referred to as vaping or juuling, has become a common occurrence at Gunn and around the Palo Alto Unified School District. Under the California Business and Professions Code, the sale, purchase and distribution of any electronic devices that deliver nicotine to people under 21 years of age is illegal.
Principal Kathleen Laurence explained in a start-of- the-year press conference with The Oracle that vaping on campus brings certain school-specific disciplinary conse- quences. “The first time being caught with an e-cigarette would be confiscation and calling your parents,” she said. “If it happens again, [the consequences] will be confisca- tion and probably some sort of suspension.”
Despite these consequences, Juuls and other vaping devices have increased in popularity around Gunn. Results from the 2013-14, 2015-16 and 2017-18 California Healthy Kids Surveys show that although the number of freshman at Gunn who have tried e-cigarettes has decreased by one percent in the past five years, the number of juniors who have used e-cigarettes at least once has nearly doubled, from nine percent to 17 percent.
“They’re very easy to get your hands on,” a student told The Oracle, under the condition that their name was not printed. “Just get a fake ID.”
The student went on to describe their initial experience with juuling. “I was in seventh grade. My friend had one and I hit it. So I was like ‘yeet,’” the student said.
According to the student, who says they have also tried harder drugs like marijuana and ecstasy, the juuling experience is relatively mild. “It’s different from getting high. You get a headrush, like you feel something rushing through your brain,” the student said.
To the student, vaping is a better alternative to smoking other substances. “Cigarettes have a lot of bad stuff in them that vapes don’t have,” the student said. “[But] you would get the same rush [as] if you tried cigarettes.”
According to the Office of the Surgeon General, vaping is a risk to brain development and may potentially cause lung cancer.
Vaping on campus without getting caught is a relatively easy, according to the student. “I think the school policies are pretty easy to get around. You just have to not be dumb,” the student said. “You have to be [discreet] about it.”
According to School Resource Officer Bradley Young, law enforcement does not actively search for students with vape pens. Instead, the school administration plays a more active role when it comes to disciplinary actions. “My role is to help enforce laws when applicable, to help mentor and to help educate,” Young said. “We [police] have seen that just being present is good. By the time it lands in front of me it’s already gone through the teacher, campus supervision, front office and administrator.”
Young added that vapers are discreet about when they use their devices on campus. “Because vaping in and of itself has no strong odor, it does not really alert people around you unless you’re looking for it,” he said. “It’s problematic and it’s everywhere.”
Vaping happens more often than one might think. Junior Claire Cheng recalled an instance when she ran into students juuling on campus. “I saw two kids vaping that were probably seniors in the N-building bathroom during first period, which is stupid because everyone uses that bathroom during first period,” she said. “I was just like, ‘Hmm ok’ and walked out.”
Cheng believes that teenagers are more susceptible to addiction. “[A vape] is kind of like a nice little pen thing,”
she said. “It’s deceivingly friendly to students and teenagers. So I feel like it’s a lot more easier to function, which makes it feel like it’s not as bad to your body.”
Sophomore Jordan Cheng agrees, though he also feels that students should not make assumptions after hearing stories of vaping on campus. “I prefer not to judge the people who do use vapes just because there might be stuff in their lives you don’t know about,” he said. “That stuff might put the appeal of vapes before its dangers.”
Laurence attributes the popularity of e-cigarettes among young people to marketing targeted towards teens. “I know that the companies pretend they’re not marketing to chil- dren,” she said. “And yet they have flavors like bubblegum and lemonade and popcorn and who are they marketing to?”
The federal government seems to agree with Laurence. According to a press release on April 24, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cited up to 40 retailers for violations of teen e-cigarette sales. The FDA has also conducted over 900,000 investigations of establishments that sell tobacco products, and has issued 70,350 warning letters to tobacco and e-cigarette retailers for violating youth protection laws. However, this national crackdown has not seemed to have affected campus vaping habits. When asked about them, another student vaper seemed indifferent to these regulations. “I bought my vape pen from the smoke shop in San Francisco,” they said. “I had a fake ID.”
Nevertheless, Laurence warns that many of the side effects of vaping are as dangerous as they are permanent. “You only get one body and your brain is developing,” she said.
Officer Young, who had loved ones pass away due to nicotine addiction, echoed Laurence’s sentiments. “[My grandma] got an electric cigarette, the old style square box vape pens, one of the first ones, to try and help curb her addiction. She was dying anyway,” he said. “It was there to make her feel better so that she wasn’t surrounded in smoke. It was incredibly hard to watch her cling to that thing as a life source, or just to feed a fix that was killing her.”
Young advises students to at least know all the consequences of their actions before they undertake them. “I’ve seen it at the beginning and I’ve seen it at the end,” he said. “Trust me, it’s not a good thing.”