For Kayla Cashion, a Parkway South High senior, the vaping phenomenon hits close to home.
“My parents both had smoking addictions,” Cashion said. “My mom quit and she was successful, but my dad is still in the process, so I take nicotine addiction a little more personally than some other students probably would.”
Cashion is a member of Parkway South’s Teen Voice for Change Program and has been part of many vaping presentations to school faculty and parents. She said the rise in vaping popularity is due to the influence of societal pressure.
“It’s the trendy thing to do right now,” Cashion said. “You go to parties, and people are doing vape tricks. Instead of kids passing around weed or alcohol, they’re passing around their Juuls or vape pens … It’s not just the kids you’d expect either, like the stereotypical ‘stoners’ or ‘druggies.’ In reality, it could be anyone.”
Using an e-cig is sometimes called “Juuling,” a term derived from Juul, a popular brand of e-cig devices that was introduced commercially in 2015. Due to its size and resemblance to USB drives, Juul has become popular in school environments – from stairwells to bathrooms.
“There are multiple times a week when officers or faculty will have to go into the bathrooms because, if you see a bunch of people crowded in one stall, that’s not exactly a common occurrence,” Cashion said.
According to Katie Pendleton, South High’s advisor for Teen Voice for Change, some students charge their Juul devices on classroom desktops or school-issued Chromebooks; some also vape in class.
“If a student has a sweatshirt and can pull it down and hide the pen there, and then expel the vape into their sleeve, the teacher never sees it,” Cashion said.
“It can just smell like lotion,” Pendleton said. “They can expel the vapor into their sweatshirt or hoodie, and a teacher might just think someone sprayed perfume.”
Currently, the consequences for using or selling e-cig products on school campuses can range from detention to out-of-school suspension. Multiple school districts have implemented educational campaigns regarding vaping and e-cigarette usage, including the education of school faculty and staff members.
Cashion and five other students attended a leadership conference in Florida sponsored by the Alliance for Community Health and came back with an anti-vaping campaign. The group also has provided presentations for teachers and parents during the school year to let faculty and parents know how to spot signs at home or in classrooms.
“I think there’s this perception that it is harmless,” Pendleton said. “But I think students are starting to realize that there is nicotine in these products, as well as a lot of other harmful substances.”
While it is illegal to sell vaping products to individuals younger than 21 in St. Louis County, Cashion said students can buy refilled vape pods online or refills from countries like China, which may have looser regulations.
“Then, you really have no idea what you’re putting in your body,” Cashion said.
Cashion also said, “A lot of high school seniors look older than they really are, and some have fake IDs, so they can just walk into these gas stations or wherever and buy them.”
Some students also resell legally obtained products in-person or via social media.
“It’s just a devastating trend,” Cashion said.