Today’s Youth Vaping Epidemic: A High School Student Speaks Out

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A week ago, I sat down with 17-year-old high school junior, Juniper, and her mom, to talk about youth vaping in Vermont

I am not clueless about vaping and youth. I am aware of the data shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that from 2022 to 2023, 10% of middle and high schoolers self-reported that they were using vapes. Of this portion of youth vaping, 25% self-reported vaping daily.

Casually polling my friends who are parents of middle and high schoolers to get a feeling for how vaping impacts the people around me, gave me the suspicion that the CDC’s data are not entirely representative of what’s happening. Speaking with Juniper hammered this point home. 

According to Juniper, kids are vaping. A lot of kids. Most kids. They are vaping regularly, including at school. They wake up and vape, daily. It’s normal for them.

Juniper said that regardless of social group or age, she guessed that 90-95% of high schoolers in her district were occasional or regular vapers. Her perception reflects what other young people have reported casually to me- directly or through their parents. 

The youth vaping epidemic is here, in Vermont, and it is not something that we can continue to ignore or deny. It is time for all of us- parents, young people, pediatricians, teachers- everyone to work together to get vapes out of our schools and away from our kids. 

Their health and well-being depend on it. 

Older teen in a yellow parka holds an e-cigarette in a cloud of vapor

In this article, I summarize and share Juniper’s experience with vaping and her observations about youth vaping. At the end, I embed a video of the full interview I did with Juniper and her mom. 

This article would not be possible without Juniper, who showed incredible insight and courage in sharing her experience with vaping. It is one thing to read data about youth vaping, but the issue becomes much more real, powerful, and immediate when someone like Juniper is brave enough to talk about it. Juniper is well-spoken, engaging, smart, successful, and beautiful. Learning from Juniper about her two-and-a-half-year span of vaping loudly emphasized the point that she directly made: There is no stereotypical “vaping young person” because ALL young people are trying vapes, regularly and occasionally. Consequently, any solution to stop youth vaping must necessarily target all young people. 

Juniper’s mother, who was present during the interview, is a visibly supportive, engaged, and empowering parent. Please note: I am not using Juniper’s mother’s name in this post on purpose, to minimize any online associations between Juniper and this article in the future. For this reason, no last names or identifying information have been used.

Juniper was 14 ½ when she started vaping. She was a freshman in high school and while she’d always been a very vocal anti-smoker and anti-vaper, one day, when a friend offered a “rip” she tried it. 

Close-up of a teenage girl vaping

Juniper used some words about youth vaping I understood but that I would not have known to use myself. It is important to me to preserve her language to accurately represent her interview. 

After trying friends’ vapes, and going through phases of wanting to stop and then continuing to use, Juniper bought her own vape at the end of her freshman year of high school. 

Juniper’s mom said that while she suspected Juniper might be vaping when she asked Juniper about it, her denials were believable. The two times she found vaping cartridges, Juniper insisted that they belonged to friends. Juniper also continued to be a vocal opponent of smoking and vaping. 

I can’t emphasize enough how present, nonjudgmental, and supportive Juniper’s mother was during this interview and even in the process of setting up the interview. No one wants their child to be engaging in dangerous, unhealthy behavior like vaping, but Juniper’s mom turned this experience into one where, ultimately, Juniper was empowered to tell her own story and to advocate for herself and her peers in supporting S.18, a bill that would end the sale of flavored tobacco in Vermont. 

I believe that this level of empowerment was a crucial part of Juniper’s ability to quit vaping cold turkey. Quitting is a huge issue for youth vaping as vapes – and the nicotine they contain – are massively addictive. 

I was struck more than ever by the realization that no matter how well you parent, your child is going to do exactly what he or she wants when out of your sight. And even if you equip your child with all the information about how to say no, and why a particular behavior is dangerous, a part of letting children grow up is recognizing that they get to make their own choices and deal with the consequences of those choices. If we get angry or revoke privileges, which, Juniper’s mom admitted she might have done if she had known Juniper was vaping, before she quit, we might create a situation where our kids are afraid to come to us with problems. Parenting is such a delicate balance. 

Several of my questions led Juniper to give me answers that genuinely surprised me, and the following stuck out.

Young woman with long dark hair and sunglasses on her head smokes a vape.

I asked Juniper how kids were vaping in school, because, as a lifetime rule-follower, I couldn’t imagine it. 

Juniper told me that young people, “Have group chats that are specifically for meeting up in the bathroom during classes to go and vape and do other things.” She went on to say that some kids “zero” to be able to vape in class. She said, 

I was curious about where young people were getting vapes. In Vermont, you have to be 21 years old to purchase tobacco products, including vapes. 

Juniper told me that there are gas stations that all the kids know about where she was able to buy vapes- even when she was 15 years old. Some kids would use fake IDs to buy vapes for themselves and for other kids too. And there are “plugs” (dealers) who sell vapes in and out of school. 

I wanted to know why Juniper decided to quit vaping, and how she accomplished it. 

Nicotine addiction in young people is serious and there appears to be some combination of factors that make vaping especially difficult for young people to quit. When asked how she quit, Juniper said, “I just did. I just did it. I just decided one day (when) I woke up in the morning (that I was) so done with this, and that day I decided no more.”

I asked why. She said, “I don’t want to say I could feel it because I don’t think I (was) sick from it, but I could feel it starting to affect me. I just felt like I couldn’t fill my lungs properly and I think it was… anxiety that I had around it, kind of working myself up.”

This isn’t the first time I heard something like this about youth vaping. 

Teen boy in an orange shirt holding a vape.

I asked Juniper if she felt cravings to vape after quitting. She said she didn’t crave it unless she was in a situation where she would have been vaping in the past, like with friends. She also admitted that one of the reasons she was motivated to quit was that she noticed that her desire to be able to vape was impacting who she hung out with and what she was doing. She said, 

Juniper’s clarity and self-awareness came into focus for me at this point. Her motivations and observations were so precise and insightful. 

Finally, I asked Juniper what adults could do to help stop youth vaping. 

She had many ideas. First, Juniper said that while young people are educated about vaping, more education is needed. She said that anti-tobacco education still tends to focus on smoking and not vaping. 

She mentioned that young people are often afraid to approach adults, including their pediatricians, to ask for help to stop vaping because they know that they are not legally allowed to buy tobacco products and know they shouldn’t be vaping- and they do not want to get into trouble for asking for help. 

collection of colorful vape pens that are so attractive and compelling to young people. The attractiveness of the vape pen is a part of the appeal for youth vaping.

Juniper was clear. She said, “If this legislation was to get passed and it was a lot harder for kids to get (vapes), I think that would start the chain reaction… where kids, just because (vapes would) not (be) around them, wouldn’t be tempted by (them.) They wouldn’t be influenced…. They wouldn’t think (vapes are) as cool. And then…  it would be easier for them to be like, oh, that’s bad for me. I should stay away from it, you know, instead of it (being) so normalized. It’s just such a norm for kids that, yeah, (we know) it’s bad for me, but… everyone does it.” 

We need to make sure S.18 is passed to stop the youth vaping epidemic in Vermont. If you would like to take action on this, please write Governor Phil Scott: or call him at 802-828-3333 and ask him to sign S.18 to end the sale of flavored tobacco in Vermont. 

3/20/24 interview

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Today’s Youth Vaping Epidemic: A High School Student Speaks Out

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