Teen trends range from the expected to the absolutely absurd. Often, middle- and high-schoolers seek out ways to express a sense of independence and push an overall identity of adulthood, despite cultural norms and hopeful parents reminding kids to enjoy youth while they are young. Seems one of the newest fads among school-aged generations is a modern take on a classic trope – kids are smoking in schools again, but not the tobacco or clove cigarettes of old. Today’s teens adopted vaping as the newest expression of their perceived grown-up interests.
Within the last decade, teen smoking statistics have declined considerably, at least, as far as older generations may define the term “smoking.” According to the CDC, cigarette use among middle- and high-schoolers halved (per age group) between 2011 and 2016. That is great news, considering the well-documented risks and long-term effects of cigarettes on the body. Decreasing numbers of teens show interest in what once was an epidemic when their parents and grandparents were in adolescence. Few are hiding behind the cafeteria in today’s secondary schools to take a puff.
But, as with myriad other technologies, smoking has also entered the electronic age in recent years. Kids still get their nic-fix, and thanks to vapes such as the Juul, they can bring that nic-fix comfortably and easily into schools (despite Juul’s website asking visitors to click a popup verifying they are 21+ ). Modern vaping devices can be as small and innocuous-looking as a thumb drive. Minimal vapor (or no vapor at all, in some cases) and pleasant scents such as fruit and sweets make vapes harder to detect in buildings and other enclosed spaces. Because of this, teachers and administrators across the country now face a more subtle and difficult-to-place rebellion from their students. Administrations have to update rules and expectations to meet a modern, tech-savvy industry with no sign of slowing down.
The health research surrounding vapes and vape technologies may still be in relative infancy, but rules are rules. Regardless of how teens may feel about the perceived minimal impact on their lives outside of the classroom, smoking – in any form or function – has never been an acceptable activity in any school setting. College and University campuses across the country are taking measures to counter rising vape use within their buildings, even with student demographics who can legally purchase and use other nicotine products.
The stigma of smoking still stands, and vapes are increasingly subject to legislation and regulation that covers other nicotine products across the country – including a legal minimum age for purchase and use in at least half the US states. Despite kids’ interest in perhaps looking cool or just their desire to do what they want if “it’s not hurting anyone,” at least one normative aspect of vaping-as-smoking remains to challenge those notions: Nicotine use is an adult decision, and should be considered as such.