Head in the Clouds -- VapeCon2019 and the Vaping Epidemic

by SYDNEY CLIFFORD - Students and Dr. McGuire reflect on the widespread issue of vaping and the October vaping convocation.


WESTFIELD, Ind. (Nov. 4, 2019) - In the bathrooms, in cars, at parties and in parks, high schoolers in Westfield are well aware of the widespread usage of vaping devices. For some students, they themselves are using the products. For others, they know someone who vapes. Some students are vocal in their disapproval for the activity, while others are the opposite. No matter what their opinion is on the issue, students at Westfield are aware that vaping is a popular activity among their age group.


So when Westfield students were notified that they had to go to a mandatory vaping convocation, reactions were mixed. Some took it as a joke, coining the gathering as “JuulCon” or “VapeCon.” Others dreaded going, knowing that it would just be a reiteration of things that they already knew. Still, others didn’t care because they knew that they weren’t going to change their ways.


“Since everyone does it, I just thought that it was going to be a huge joke and that no one was going to take it seriously,” Emily Ruggles (10) said. “But I was actually kind of looking forward to what they were going to be saying and that hopefully, it was going to be more impactful to the people who do that stuff.”


WHS Principal Dr. Stacy McGuire wanted to have this presentation because she wanted the students to have the information they needed in order to make an informed decision. When she first saw the vaping epidemic in Westfield High School, she found that a lot of the students were misinformed.


“About three years ago is when we started [seeing the vaping problem],” Dr. McGuire said. “I think that this whole epidemic is bred out of misinformation, that this is water vapor, that it’s healthy and safe for you. And talking with kids initially, they said, ‘Well it’s better than smoking. I’d rather do this than smoke and this doesn’t hurt me.’ It has become very, very clear that there is a huge physical concern, in terms of your lung capacity and lung pockets and blood clots and other things. But also there is a huge mental concern in terms of susceptibility to addiction.”


Knowing that the issue came from misinformation, Dr. McGuire knew that there was more that needed to be done , beyond just punishing those who violate the school’s drug policy. In order to prepare students for life, she wanted to fight misinformation with accurate information.


“Where I would prefer to spend more time is proactive,” Dr. McGuire continued. “Educating kids, helping you make good, sound decisions about not just your physical health, but also your mental health. And I think that again part of being proactive is that you are all young adults, and an adult telling you to not just do something isn’t good enough for you. So I just feel strongly that we need to educate you because I feel like when you have a lot of the information, 99 percent of the time you know the right choice to make. Whether you make it or not is up to you guys. But you’re pretty clear about what that decision is.”


Once students received the presentation, some left feeling as though they had wasted a class period. They knew a lot of the information already given to them, and the presentation layout allowed for students to check out mentally once they arrived.


“I don’t think many people got much out of it really,” Ella Wettschurack (10) said. “I think the idea of it was a really good idea, and if there was more information I feel like it could have been more impactful. But if I’m being completely honest I think that the [presenters] could have had some more information, and the students could have been more behaved.”


Ruggles agreed with Wettschurack’s sentiments.


“I think that they just repeated things that people already knew like stuff that we’ve all heard it before,” Ruggles said. “I wish they dug just a little bit deeper, at least talked about some of the deaths that had been occurring that week. It would have shown a different side of it. It would have been better.”


The presentation did not meet Dr. McGuire’s standards either. She thought she was only given one piece of a much larger issue.


“What I wanted was to give you guys information,” Dr. McGuire said. “I wanted an anti-vaping message. I wanted the information to be presented to you guys in an appropriate manner for you to process the physical and mental consequences, concerns. I felt like what we got was an anti-Juul message.”


Moving forward, students felt as though the presentation could have been better presented for such a pressing, wide-spread issue. Many students wanted to have more information that wasn’t included in the presentation, especially the sudden hospitalization of thousands of people due to vaping. Others just thought that the presentation format needed to be improved upon.


“I think if it was a little more formal and there were just more statistics,” Wettschurack said. “The girls were really young. I appreciate that they were trying to make it fun for the students, but I think they kind of made it too fun to a point that it was taken as a joke, making the students all wild and crazy.”


Dr. McGuire believes that there is more to do for the vaping issue at Westfield. She still wants to continue her proactive stance, but she thinks that she has more to do to better inform her students.


“I would have liked to have had a mental health doctor talk about the science of your brain and the science of addiction,” Dr. McGuire said. “I would have liked to have had a medical doctor there talking about the impacts of your lungs and whatnot. I would have liked to have had an addiction specialist talking about teenagers in general, why you’re so susceptible to addiction and what you do. I would have liked to have had a kid’s perspective. At the time I didn’t know that we actually had our own student that was hospitalized, but you know a kid who had gone through this because you listen to each other more than you listen to me. And maybe even a family member, a parent or sibling of someone who has really gone through this addiction. To give you this broader piece so that you’ve got information from the physical piece, the mental piece, the addictive piece, the choice piece, the personal piece, then you’d be a little more informed about your decision to vape.”

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