Community voices finally heard—and listened to—on the infamous epidemic

Ashna Sharma

Staff Writer

    This year, instead of the typical vivid flyers promoting club meetings and jubilant school celebrations, large posters with anti-vaping slogans in an intimidating pitch-black font are duck-taped onto the walls, looming above the bathroom sink. According to the American Heart Association, one in four teens vape, but how common really is vaping at our school?

    Vaping has actually become a frequent, everyday part of campus culture at American and has spiked in the last couple of years.

    On November 15, the Fremont USD had a meeting with physicians, students, teachers, and community leaders who have taken on the vaping epidemic. Some recounted personal narratives that were solidified with alarming statistics.

    The biggest problem of vaping boils down to the cheap, affordable price of the Juul, a stick powered, as Stefan Wooding, the Tri-City Health Center’s youth advocacy coordinator, says, through a “lithium ion battery, and vaping juices, such as buttered popcorn and cinnamon, that are easily accessible and intentionally masked with seemingly harmless language.”

    The Juul, an e-cigarette device brand in the shape of a flash drive, is so compact that students can hide it behind their jackets to vape between classes, in the halls of school, and one other popular location—student bathrooms—without being the recipients of any suspicion.

    “I usually vape in the bathrooms,” an anonymous senior admitted.

    Jared, a senior student from Irvington, recalled,  “First time I saw an e-cigarette: eighth grade. I didn’t know what it was, but my friend bought it. He bought a cotton candy cartridge. When I go to high schools, I see students down the halls…with juuls, teachers are unaware. I have many friends who smoke e-cigarettes, but they do not know what is in it.”

    Zachary, another senior at Irvington High School and a member of the Tri-City Health Youth Advisory Board, said, “6 packs [of vape] cost as little as 99 cents. Every 10 percent increase of cigarette prices can reduce tobacco use by 7 percent. One of my really close friends bought a Juul a while back, he didn’t know what was inside of it. Within weeks he got addicted. It was really sad seeing him because he would get withdrawals if he didn’t do it within one or two hours. He’s like a completely different person now. He would twitch, his mood would change, he would have to take a hit and leave in the middle of class.”

    Another senior from Irvington continued, “Back when we were underclassmen, my friends would go to regular stores, convenience stores, with no incentive of getting tobacco products. However, based on the so many different candy flavors, they got curious. The technological appeal of the juul attracts some students. Now my friends can’t make it to their sports commitments because they are vaping.”

    One thing not mentioned at the meeting is that there are so many options to customize the vaping experience and control the amounts of nicotine. Richer students who can afford e-cigarette mods that cost about 40-80 dollars believe that vaping with zero concentrations of nicotine is harmless fun and an “art,” and they are unaware of the potential health-related risks that are associated with the vapor itself.   

    Dr. Azure Thompson, a Columbia University PhD, said, “The truth is, the other chemicals found in e-cigarette liquid, flavorings and aerosols are not safe. A large number of these chemicals have serious health consequences, including cancer, lung disease, and heart disease. A recent study found five cancer-causing toxins in the urine of 16-year-olds who inhaled e-cigarette vapor.”

    Although the epidemic may seem like a lost cause, some schools are being bold enough to actually take charge and make some firsts, instead of just idly sitting around in expectation of some sort of unforeseen change in the future. Measures are being taken to tackle and counteract the issue.

    A student speaker from Mission informed, “Mission has been putting some policies such as closing the parking lot after school to prevent students from huddling together.”

   Sonia Khan, a physician, was emotional while sharing her concern of teenagers addicted to vaping.

    Khan remarked, “Last year, [the age treated by] the American Academy of Pediatrics was extended till age 26. There is documentation of lung damage and neurodevelopmental damage [in teenagers.] Teens are infinitely more likely to get addicted to it [compared to adults]. The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed [as a teenager],” Khan described.

    Arnab Mukherjee, a professor and researcher at California State University, East Bay, considered the context of the vaping epidemic specifically to how it relates to our community, “We live in Fremont, California, in the Alameda County in the state of California, arguably one of the most diverse of the most diverse of the most diverse. I think many [Asian-Americans] have a member in the family that still smokes. I don’t think it is because they do not know any better. Asian males smoke at a higher rate in California than they do nationally.”

    Students are three times more likely to smoke if their parents did.

    Vin, a senior at Irvington, said,  “I’ve been in this organization since eighth grade when I finally figured out that my uncles smoked cigarettes. That is kind of ironic, one of them is a dentist. It makes your teeth look ugly doing that. The other [uncle] has two children, I have some friends whose parents passed away because their parents smoked cigarettes.”

    No current student from American spoke at the event. However, many from Mission and Irvington did; vaping is definitely as severe as a problem at American as it is at other FUSD high schools. Students must be brought awareness from a third party, if they do not even know what they are inhaling and putting into their bodies. One constant mantra however echoed throughout the meeting, as Dr. Khan stated— “E-cigarette products that appeal to children have no business in the marketplace—period.”  

    Students at AHS need to be continually reminded on what they are putting in their bodies. Are posters in our school bathrooms enough to control an epidemic?       

Photo Caption: Stefan Wooding, the Tri-City Health Center’s youth advocacy coordinator, holds up a Juul mango flavored pod

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