In Depth: How EGHS officials are combatting the vaping problem

Stephanie Hultgren-Tagliere, Sectional Editor

In October, a Township High School District 214-sponsored meeting held at John Hersey High School revolved around the use of vaping and e-cigarette use. Those in attendance: 200 parents.

“Just by that [number] alone you can see that parents are concerned, and it is something a lot of people do not know much about,” Elk Grove High School dean of students Justin Penio said.               

The growing trend of vaping use among teenagers has attracted the attention of not just EGHS administrators, but also community members and parents within District 214.

Vaping is the act of inhaling vapor through one’s mouth, usually from a battery-operated device such as Juul or Suorin that heats up and vaporizes an e-juice, more commonly known “vape juice.”

Penio is straightforward about how vaping has emerged within teenage circles. EGHS is in the process of considering different measures to combat the growing trend among students.

“Vaping is a common problem among junior highs, high schools, and communities in general,” Justin Penio said. “Using E-cigarettes such as Sourins and Juuls have become very popular among teenagers. Elk Grove High School is aware of the vaping problems during school hours and is taking steps to help address the issue.”

For one, EGHS officials have considered installing nicotine detectors in all school bathrooms to help combat the presence of vaping during school hours. These devices have been used in other schools, and EGHS officials such as Penio believe putting nicotine detectors in the bathroom could help curb students use of vaporizers in school.

There are other methods to prevent vaping during school hours that the school is looking into, such as informing teachers on what these E-cigarettes look like and what staff members should do if they were to see a student vaping.

There has been a range of knowledge about vaping, and EGHS officials have been encouraging staff and parents to stay informed about the topic.

“We come across an incredible amount of different types [of vaporizers] and I probably see more different ones then I do the same,” Penio said.

In addition, there is still little known about the health effects of vaping and e-cigarettes. According to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) study from August, vaporizers still contain aerosol, an ingredient found in cigarettes.

“If someone offered you a cigarette would you take it and smoke it in the bathroom? Probably not,” Penio said. “The problem with vaping is that it is so discreet and hard to pinpoint.”

EGHS administrators make it clear that vaping, smoking, drinking and drug use on the school campus are not permitted, and there are consequences for those actions. But what has made it hard for administrators and staff is the concealed manner in which vaping is used.

“There are places that students often go to to vape such as bathrooms,” EGHS Principal Paul Kelly. “It is difficult for the school to see everything at all times because the bathroom or bathroom stall is such a private area which makes it hard for staff because it is such a personal thing.”

Aside from its discreet manner that EGHS officials are working to combat, vaping use has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to aggressive marketing strategies from vaping manufacturers. Some companies have been accused of purposely targeting teenagers, according to a New York Times article from August.

Vape juices can be sold in a variety flavors such as blue raspberry, cotton candy, mango, and so on. The same aforementioned harmful chemicals found in vape juices are marketed to look safer with these flavors. Some vape juices contain high levels of nicotine and other chemicals that can be linked to serious lung problems, according to the CDC.

EGHS staff cannot have cigarettes in their purses, pockets or bags during school time. Students may not have those products with them either, even if they are old enough to buy the products. Cook County residents have to be 21 to buy tobacco products.

Despite the current rules in place, EGHS continues to explore ways to prevent vaping use from recurring on school grounds.

“Schools all over the place are talking about this issue, and there have been a lot of other serious options discussed,” Kelly said.