Vapor and Mirrors: Exploring the fog of confusion surrounding vaping


by micadew via flickr, creative commons, published March 7, 2015, license link:, link to original image:

Vaping is the next new thing, and with everything new comes many doubts and uncertainties. But one thing is for sure: it seems that this trend is here to stay.

“What do you know about vaping?”

“Vaping?” I’m in the office of Mary Currie, the school nurse. She seems befuddled, and she frowns, with a look of puzzlement on her face.

“Yeah, vaping? Like, smoking electronic cigarettes?” I respond, notes poised to transcribe her thoughts.

“Oh yeah, I read an article about that,” she discloses upon recognition of the initially unfamiliar word. “I don’t know much about it though.”


A new meme in town

When asked about vaping, many parents and teachers convey similarly perplexed responses, unfamiliar with the term. Only a few years ago, the words “vaping” or “vape pen” were rarely, if ever, used in the common vernacular. “Vape pens” held the name of electronic cigarettes, and were generally used to help smokers quit their addiction. The modern e-cigarette was only invented in Beijing in 2003 and brought to the United States in 2006 and 2007, sparking the rise of a modest e-cigarette industry in the U.S. People just weren’t as interested in puffing vaporized liquids.

However, a couple of years ago, vape pens exploded onto the mainstream market. Suddenly, everyone was buying flavored liquids and vape pens, posting Vines of vaping tricks, and tweeting with #vapelife. Oxford Dictionaries designated the word “vape” as the Word of the Year 2014.  Vaping became more than a method of quitting smoking. It became a pastime, a meme, and for some, a veritable way of life.


Students react

            When asked their opinions on vaping, students, teachers, and parents express a vast array of contrasting opinions. In a survey of 40 Lambert students, several thoughtful points emerged on the rising popularity of using vape pens, as well as several facetious, hash tag-filled responses that provoked more than a few giggles from the Lambert Post staff. While 44 percent of students said they had never vaped before, 56 percent said they had used vape pens at least once. Many replied that they had vaped only once, usually with friends, and found they didn’t like it enough to repeat the activity. The responses of those that shared negative opinions on vaping were permeated with one similar sentiment: why are teenagers so obsessed with it?vaping graph


Why are teenagers obsessed with vaping?

There’s no doubt that many students of Lambert have caught the vape fever. Students enjoy vaping in their cars with friends in the parking lot after school, doing tricks with the clouds of liquid that are produced from the vape pens. As the rate of teenage smoking decreases to historically low levels, the increase in vaping by teens has experienced a steady upward climb. This recent trend begs the question: why have so many teenagers become infatuated with the activity?

“I’ve never vaped but I know of a good amount of people that attend LHS and other Forsyth County high schools that vape,” says one Lambert student, who wished to remain anonymous. “I think most just do it either for the flavor or to look cool and do certain ‘smoke tricks’ with the vape pen to show to their friends.”

For many, vaping is a way to have fun and relax with friends, and others are attracted by delicious-sounding flavors such as cinnamon and pina colada.  In the survey about vaping conducted at Lambert, of the students that responded that they had vaped before, 27% said that they had vaped only once and never repeated the activity. One anonymous student responded, “I vaped once and I HATED IT,” and another said, “I tried it once at a party and I didn’t find any enjoyment in it.” Some find that the vape life isn’t for them, while others absolutely love it. Vaping has become a prevalent meme on social media, spreading like wildfire as memes tend to, and thousands of vines and tweets include vape tricks and pro-vaping sentiments. There exists a divide on social media between those who legitimately enjoy vaping and those who use #vapelife ironically, amused by the explosive popularity of vaping among their peers. The practice of vaping appeals to teenagers for the same reasons that weird, synthetic drugs appeal to teenagers: vaping is the next new thing.

“While it started as a way to quit smoking, vaping has turned into Vines and #vapelife. It’s the cool thing to do. If it isn’t this it’s cigarettes or dip… isn’t vaping the better alternative when it comes to these cool-kid fads?” says another anonymous student, bringing up a relevant point. When compared to chewing dip, smoking cigarettes, and taking serious drugs, vaping appears to be a safe way for teenagers to participate in a rebellious activity while avoiding causing any lasting harm to their health. However, vaping may not be as harmless as producers of electronic cigarettes may want people to believe.


What we know about vaping

             “I just know it’s supposed to be toxic,” says Currie, recalling what she has learned about the new trend. “People think it’s not, but it is. You’re still inhaling chemicals into your lungs even though you can’t see them. Often times it’s inhaled stronger than a regular cigarette because [users] think they’re not getting enough. They take a longer breath and try to hold it in there like marijuana.”

Is vaping dangerous? Parents say that it is, and while studies have confirmed the potential dangers of the activity, many people don’t fully know what vaping is or the health consequences associated with it. As the prevalent use of vaping is so recent, it is important to understand what vaping is and how it affects a person’s health.

The Huffington Post defines vaping as “an all-inclusive term that relates to inhaling and exhaling the vapor produced by an electronic cigarette.” Electronic cigarettes are battery operated, and a heating component within the e-cig heats up the liquid inside, turning it into a vapor that users can breathe in. There are abundant flavors of liquid that can go in the devices, and they vary in amounts of nicotine, from 0 mg to more than 24 mg. E-cigs first gained popularity among adults that wished to quit smoking. They turned to e-cigarettes, gradually decreasing their amount of nicotine intake until they were freed of their smoking habit. Pro-vaping websites list a plethora of benefits of vaping instead of smoking, including the absence of tobacco and smoke, the lack of odor, and the lack of restrictions on vaping in public. However, these are all benefits of using vape pens instead of cigarettes, and there is very little evidence that vaping has a positive effect on a person’s overall health, unless they have stopped smoking and switched to vaping.

When it comes to analyzing the potential health risks of using electronic cigarettes, studies often produce diverse and conflicting results. For example, a study performed at Drexel University by Professor Igor Burstyn found that e-cigs pose no substantial threat to users or bystanders. The study found that “the levels of contaminants e-cigarette users are exposed to are insignificant, far below levels that would pose any health risk.” While this evidence may be encouraging to those who enjoy vaping, a study conducted at Harvard University found contrary data. Researchers discovered the presence of diacetyl in electronic cigarettes, a harmful chemical that “destroy[s] the lungs’ tiniest airways, leading to scar tissue buildup that block airflow.”

However, the majority of researchers agree that there is simply still not enough known about vaping to conclusively decide whether it is harmful or not. Until more revealing, comprehensive studies are completed on the use of vape pens, their popularity will no doubt continue to grow.


Kids, get your vape pens here

Similar to how cigarettes were advertised in the 50s and 60s, with billboards and commercials extolling the various health benefits of smoking to the teenaged and middle aged populations, vape pens and other various vaping devices are marketed to the public as safer alternatives to smoking that will not only improve your well-being but also appeal to your sense of taste in the process. These advertisements and the sale of e-cigs and e-pipes will continue to go largely unregulated until more is known about vaping, and various companies are taking full advantage of the wild popularity that vaping enjoys. One anonymous student expressed alarm at the way these devices are advertised, saying, “The very wrong thing about this is that sales for vape pens are obviously targeted to the teenage population. They name their flavors as if they were naming a candy or ice cream flavor.” E-liquids now come in the flavor of any fruit imaginable, causing concern that teenagers won’t realize the potential health risks associated with using vape pens because of how harmless the liquids sound. Currie warned that the seemingly non-toxic liquids can be deceptive. “They still have nicotine, they think the flavors are natural but it’s all chemical based,” she cautioned.

From Joe Haupt on flickr- Ad for camel cigarettes from 1946; cigarette advertisers often extolled the health benefits of smoking, to lend credibility to their products. This is similar to the marketing of electronic cigarettes we are seeing today.


To vape, or not to vape: that is the question

In all, it seems that the appeal of vaping, as well as the uncertainty of its effects on a person’s well-being, has led to its meteoric rise in popularity among teenagers everyone, including students at Lambert.  If you are contemplating taking up vaping, consider the words of another anonymous student, “It’s your own body so you can do what you want with it. But if you do vape/smoke don’t vape/smoke near people who obviously don’t like it.” If you choose to take up the activity, be sure to familiarize yourself with the contents of the liquids you are puffing and the amount of nicotine you’re inhaling. Vaping is such a new phenomenon that the unknowns may prove to be as harmless as inhaling some fog, or as injurious as a real cigarette.