Vaping. It’s in the news and it’s something we have been paying attention to at Proctor. Although the technology has been around for longer, the mass production and marketing of Juuls and other “smokeless” devices has started to significantly impact campuses over the last couple of years. It’s not a good development. We started noticing a higher presence of these devices last year, and then a further shift this year. Our experience mirrors what is being reported in the NYT article on April 2nd: ‘I Can’t Stop’: Schools Struggle With Vaping Explosion. It’s a bit like trying to contend with an invasive species in your garden. Weed it out, chop it back, and it just keeps popping up.
The marketing for the products is slick, the price point is low, the packaging cool, and a lot of the vaping products can slip past the casual observer. They look like USB sticks, or pens. They can fit in a palm, slip up a sleeve. There are nicotine cartridges for devices like Juuls, THC cartridges for others vapes, and all of it unobtrusive in size and difficult to detect when used. You might not even notice someone using a device 15 feet away. And while some schools might say it’s not an issue in their community, I don’t buy it. I think these devices and their use are an issue everywhere, not just on high school and college campuses. Middle schools are starting to struggle with vaping.
These are not benign devices. Marketed as being safe, or safer, they are not. Last fall we had a speaker come in to talk about the dangers of these devices and the substances inhaled: the propylene glycol and glycerol, the diacetyl - all of which are linked to significant health issues. He spoke about popcorn lung and the risk of cancers. Of the big business behind the devices interested in the bottom line, not an individual’s well being.
The vapors, smelling fruity sweet and innocuous, are meant to be enticing. The culture that has been created around these devices is meant to suggest the cool, trend conscious, somewhat defiant, and always individualistic user. Isn’t that always the way. Students will say these devices are a safer way to smoke, but they are not. The amount of nicotine they deliver is high, and highly addictive. The THC that can be smoked through them is concentrated. Extremely so. Vaping is not a better or healthy choice.
So what to do about this trend? You can’t speaker series your way out of this as a community. You can change the rule structures, which we have done so that any student found with a smokeless device has to undergo a urinalysis to determine what is being used and subsequent repercussions, but rules will only go so far. You can offer “safe harbor” at the Health Center to those who know they are struggling with addiction and who want help, and we have done that, too. But this is a cultural trend created by innate susceptibility to addictions, fueled by slick marketing and well developed product, and backed by big businesses who have hit a winning formula and have no incentive to change. You can’t wave or wish this one away. The only way we are going to guide students through this potential health crisis is by having both a collective and individualistic approach. It has to be a joint undertaking with parents as actively engaged as schools, with both parties willing to “go there” in conversations with our children, our advisees, and those we care about.
I wish I could say, “Not here, we don’t have that problem here,” but I can’t, won’t, and don’t think any school should.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School