Editorial: Vaping on campus: why it has no place in Parkway



Most high school students are not avid smokers; it’s become rare to find a full ashtray in a student’s car and to see tobacco-stained fingertips in the hallways. However, glass pens that emit delicious flavors and pleasant smelling value clouds are rising where students gather. A new form of smoking is on the rise: the e-cigarette.

An e-cigarette is a battery-operated device that uses flavored liquid and heats it to deliver nicotine-laced steam to the user instead of tobacco smoke. Manufacturers market their products as being a safe alternative to traditional means of smoking because it creates vapor instead of smoke, and increase their appeal by adding a range of flavored cartridges like mint, chocolate, and vanilla and designing the e-cigarette to look more like a glass or fountain pen instead of a traditional cigarette. The usage of the e-cigarette, also known as an e-cig, vape, or hookah pen, has escalated from 4.7 percent to 10 percent from 2011 to 2012 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and shows no signs of slowing.

E-cigarettes offer the ability to smokers as an alternative way to get their nicotine fix while cutting down on some — not all — of the harmful chemical additives in other tobacco products, allowing them to smoke more discreetly outdoors, and even allowing them to smoke indoors where smoking is usually banned.

Between the attractive flavors and designs and manipulative advertising by e-cigarette manufacturers, it’s no wonder why popularity among students has taken off. The new invention’s popularity and its lack of the usual stigmas attached to smoking have led to smoking on campus slowly becoming more popular. Parkway administrators are faced with a new challenge: should e-cigarettes be banned from campuses, even though they are technically not tobacco products?

Even though e-cigarettes don’t offer the traditional offenses of cigarettes like the strong and damaging smoke and an alarming amount of carcinogens, the answer should still be no. Banning e-cigarettes is essential to continue promoting healthy lifestyles focused on academic and personal success, and to crack down on an already covert-yet-prevalent rate of drug use on campus.

“The amount of smoking on campus is something that warrants our continued attention. We do have people who need to smoke so bad that they try to leave campus to smoke. Kids risking the consequences of smoking is part of the problem,” assistant principal Terry Martinez said.

The nicotine in e-cigarettes builds a dependency on the chemical instead of serving as a device to help quit smoking, as so many in the e-cigarette industry promote. Instead of releasing controlled, small amounts of nicotine to decrease dependency like the patch or nicotine gum, the heat produced in the e-cigarette causes an increased amount of the chemical to be spread into the body. They force nicotine quickly to the lungs, heart and brain, which is what causes addiction in the first place. In this case, less dangerous doesn’t mean completely safe.

Allowing students to smoke e-cigarettes on campus is giving them a free pass to use a gateway to other nicotine products. Health classes drive the harmful effects of nicotine addiction into students from day one: higher risks of cancer, birth defects, and developmental disorders. It would not only be hypocritical of Parkway to allow nicotine consumption on campus while teaching students to respect their bodies and to eschew harmful poisons, but irresponsible because they would be turning a blind eye to a product that is damaging to students’ health while claiming to be keeping teens safe while on campus.

The attractive smells and tastes of e-cigarette flavors poses a distraction within the classroom as well. The false information disseminated among the student population heightens curiosity; after all, if it’s supposed to be safe and tastes pretty good, why not smoke it? Many e-cigarette smokers don’t limit their vaping to lunch. The tips of e-cigarettes can be seen poking out of some students’ sleeves and backpacks during class time, the smell of the flavors can be detected during passing periods, and vapor clouds have been spotted inside of at least one classroom.

“I saw a student smoking out of his sleeve in the middle of a class. It was really discrete and I only knew for sure after he admitted he was,” junior Alya Bajwa said. “I feel like it’s indicative of a bigger problem. If you can get away with smoking in class, what else can you get away with?”

Creating capable, curious, and confident students is Parkway’s educational mission, and having students vape while teachers try to fulfill that mission goes against everything the district wants to project and create. That student is more focused on taking puffs off of their e-cigarette than on their assignment, and is way more disruptive to others than other distractions like a cell phone. When a cloud of vapor suddenly hits my face I’m definitely going to be more distracted by it than someone holding their phone under the desk. Passing the pen around class for other students to use is also disrespectful to the teacher because it shows a preoccupation with being social and fitting in with what’s going on instead of being attentive.

Due to public and media pressures, people who smoke old-school cigarettes at least ask before lighting up in a crowded place. People who use e-cigarettes just go on and vape wherever they are because they’re seen as less offensive, and this behavior is already filtering into West. Banning e-cigarettes entirely would greatly decrease the chance of the devices popping up in classrooms, even if they would theoretically only be allowed outside of class.

Distractions become more serious when an e-cigarette is manipulated to hold butane-extracted hash oil (BHO) instead of the original nicotine liquid. Hash oil is a thick liquid that contains a higher amount of THC, the chemical responsible for creating the high, than other conventional forms of marijuana, creating a stronger and longer high. Smoking hash oil in an e-cigarette gets a person high in a really short amount of time, it doesn’t draw as much attention was holding a joint or pipe, and the smell is virtually non-existent, making it the perfect way to quietly get stoned at school.

“With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, the next big business is going to be manufacturing a cartridge for marijuana and other substances,” Martinez said. “The drug industry is changing so quickly, and we as a district have to prepare for those changes as best as we can.”

The potential of e-cigarettes to be easily manipulated into holding illegal substances is what should force Parkway’s hand. In an environment where drug dogs, locker searches, and car searches are part of routine, allowing e-cigarettes on campus is irresponsible and negligent of student well being. While there are certainly students who use drugs outside of school, or even leave school and come back stoned, teens lighting up in the hallway or even the classroom is something that’s unacceptable for an educational setting that also promotes a drug-free lifestyle. The presence of e-cigarettes would only make it harder for teachers and administrators to regulate the environment students are involved in while under their care.

A crackdown on e-cigarettes on campus is essential for Parkway to stick to its mission of educating students in the best and safest environment possible. The district’s drug policy states that a student cannot “possess, use, transfer, distribute, or be under the influence of any alcoholic beverage, controlled substance, or imitation controlled substance,” yet, an e-cigarette doesn’t fall neatly into any of those categories. It isn’t an imitation cigarette; it’s something else entirely. The policy also states that chemical substances are considered controlled substances, but is the liquid cartridge of the e-cigarette enough to ban the entire device? These are the questions Parkway has to consider while weighing the risks the new invention poses for students.

Drinking and smoking have had no place on school grounds for years. It’s time to add vaping to that list.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Parkway School District.