According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 78% increase in the use of flavored electronic cigarettes among high school students between the years 2017 and 2018. That means more than 3.6 million young people are now currently using flavored e-cigarettes. This rise in popularity of vaping is damaging the health and academics of youth all across the nation, and particularly that of high school athletes.
Vaping is the act of inhaling vapor created by battery-powered e-cigarette devices, like JUUL. These e-cigarettes contain pods with a variety of synthetic flavors and a mixture of other chemicals. While these products do not use tobacco, many e-cigarette cartridges contain approximately the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. There is far less research available on the health effects of vaping than there is on the effects of cigarettes, but some studies have found that e-cigarette pods can cause lung and cardiac disease as well as harm to the developing brains of adolescents. The heart is an organ that seems to be particularly impacted by vaping – one study found that a 30-minute vaping session had the same adverse effect on the aorta as smoking for five minutes.
While the idea of a “smoking athlete” may be hard to grasp, vaping amongst student athletes is becoming increasingly common, and this is especially true for those in team sports. A 2017 study performed by Massey University found that teens involved in team sports such as baseball, football, and hockey were the most regular users of nicotine products of all high school demographics. All of the potential health risks associated with e-cigarette use can significantly impair a student athlete’s ability to perform, and coaches and parents are witnessing this across the country first-hand. Nicotine-addicted teens have been documented as skipping practice to indulge in smoke breaks and are becoming tired faster during practice and games due to the effects that vaping has on the lungs.
What we’re seeing is that kids are feeling the effects of e-cigarette use, particularly the impact it has on athletic performance.
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In addition to the long-term consequences for a student athlete’s cardiovascular system, getting caught vaping at school can also result in punishments that keep them from competing. In an effort to deter students from using the harmful nicotine products, school officials are now implementing game-suspensions amongst other reprimands if individuals are caught vaping on school grounds.
According to Framingham High School Athletic Director Paul Spear, student athletes are caught vaping on campus and sent to his office every week. These kids are then suspended for a series of games, meaning they potentially miss out on play-off games and other major sporting events that could determine whether or not they’re recruited for collegiate sports. “From the athletic standpoint, it’s heartbreaking,” Spear said. “The worst part of my job is telling a student-athlete they can’t compete because they’ve done something that precludes them from being part of their team.”
The High School Nicotine Epidemic And What Administrators Are Doing About It
The use of e-cigarettes amongst teens has become so prevalent that the U.S. Surgeon General considers vaping to be a new public health crisis. In fact, nicotine addiction now affects one in five high school students due to the use of electronic cigarettes. This has prompted administrators and government officials alike to examine and re-consider how they should go about reducing these statistics – with punishment or with treatment and education?
Part of what makes e-cigarettes such a problem is that not all students who use them realize they contain nicotine. Another issue is that compared to tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarette products are marketed and created as increasingly enticing to younger populations. For example, JUUL is a sleek modern design and comes in sweet flavors that appeal to kids, such as mango, cool mint, fruit medley, and cotton candy. Additionally, the vapor of e-cigarettes is almost odorless, allowing students to smoke in class and in hallways virtually undetected.
[Vaping] has affected a much wider spectrum of kids. It used to be quite a daring thing to smoke a cigarette in a bathroom because you could smell it, so somebody knew that someone had been smoking. With these, there’s no way that you can know.
Because of these factors, school officials, pediatricians, and parents are all starting to look at vaping as less of a behavior problem and more as an addiction problem. Some school districts are now exploring the option of offering cessation programs for students caught with vaping rather than simply suspension. For example, the Conejo Valley Unified School District in southern California recently shifted from suspending students for a first offense to sending them to a four-hour Saturday class on the manipulative marketing and health dangers of vaping. A second offense results in a one day suspension coupled with several weeks of a more intensive six-week counseling program that includes parents.
As teen e-cigarette use continues to rise, officials are hoping more schools will consider implementing vaping cessation programs that are specifically tailored to students.
Jena Hilliard earned her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from the University of Central Florida in English Literature. She has always had a passion for literature and the written word. Upon graduation, Jena found her purpose in educating the public on addiction and helping those that struggle with substance dependency find the best treatment options available.
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