Bryan Students Discuss Shift In Conversation Toward Vaping With Tobacco Usage

Bryan Students Discuss Shift In Conversation Toward Vaping With Tobacco Usage
Bryan Students Discuss Shift In Conversation Toward Vaping With Tobacco Usage

Bryan senior Lacey Garcia said there’s been a major shift in the discussion about traditional tobacco due to the rise of e-cigarettes and vaping among youth.

Students from Bryan, Rudder and Bryan Collegiate high schools along with a group from Davila Middle School, gathered for Bryan High’s Vikings Kicking Out Tobacco (VKOT) Youth Symposium at the district boardroom Tuesday. Discussions centered on promoting drug prevention and the dangers of using substances like vaping. Garcia described it as an epidemic in schools.

“We’ve been kind of forced to focus more on these types of substances and vapes and these e-cigarettes in general because this is the new thing,” Garcia said. “This is the new technology that basically has evolved from a basic cigarette, but it’s no longer the same effects. It’s worse and it’s just growing rapidly right now.”

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A 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) about tobacco product usage among middle and high school students showed 10% reported currently using tobacco products, and e-cigarettes were the most used products. The report showed 1.97 million youth were currently using e-cigarettes and 89.4% used flavored e-cigarettes, a tactic VKOT members explained is being used to attract younger users.

While the NYTS survey showed tobacco usage declined from 16.5% to 12.6% among high school students, tobacco usage increased from 4.5% to 6.6% among middle school students. VKOT sponsor and Bryan teacher Patricia Bailey-Jones said the best target audience to begin having conversations about tobacco product usage is fourth, fifth and sixth graders since statistics show youth start to use these products at earlier ages. She noted there was an incident in Bryan this year where a third grader was caught with a vape device. In the fall, VKOT is slated to have a summit with all of the district’s intermediate school students.

The Bryan school district is exempt from a Texas law that mandates students caught vaping on campus must be taken out of regular classes. The district has continued to implement its own disciplinary management classes and is exempt from the law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last June because it is classified as a district of innovation.

“Students today are vaping or they’re doing their little snuff pouch in their mouth because it doesn’t smell like a traditional cigarette,” Bailey-Jones said. “That’s obvious to people. The vaping, they can do it a lot of times without being noticed at all.”

VKOT is a student-led organization that started in 2014 and has a partnership with the Brazos Valley Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse. VKOT members hosted three breakout sessions for attendees. One focused on how vape and e-cigarette devices are hidden in plain sight.

When the first generation of e-cigarettes hit the market in 2007, students explained how they still looked similar to traditional cigarettes. Now, fourth-generation e-cigarettes have slicker designs that make them easier to disguise. Attendees watched a 2019 video from the “Today Show” where a test classroom had vape products hidden around the room. Teachers and parents tried to identify these disguised items, but the best anyone did was point out five of the 14 hidden items.

In November 2023, the FDA sent warning letters to seven online retailers for selling and/or distributing unauthorized e-cigarettes that appealed to youth and were disguised as everyday items, like milk cartons, soda bottles and other toys.

“I have three younger sisters and my sister’s about to enter fifth grade and if she enters a school in this generation where vaping is normalized and it’s just crazy all over the place, I worry she might be next because of how these tobacco companies are targeting pens and highlighters and erasers,” said Gabriella Garica, a Bryan junior and VKOT member.

VKOT members explained how tobacco companies are targeting youth to replace older generations and to build up lifelong customers. Social media is a tool being used to promote using products such as vapes. The NYTS study said e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco products used by American youths since 2014, and many of those remain users.

“They want to target the generation that’s younger, has more life to give, and I just want to give awareness on that,” Bryan sophomore Cynthia Abreu said. “I think it’s good to start [teaching when their] young that way when they get into high school they’re not completely clueless and they get hooked on something they don’t know.”

While VKOT’s mission is to reduce and prevent use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol, Garcia said there’s a mixed opinion among Bryan students. She said there are students who genuinely hate vape devices and don’t use restrooms due to lingering smells, but there are others who don’t think vape products will hurt them and use them to decrease stress.

“As much as we talk to them, we do get those looks of, ‘Oh, you’re just being a narc,’ or ‘You’re being a tattletale,’ but we’re genuinely just out there to help them,” Garcia said. “I hope they understand that.”

Nonetheless, Bailey-Jones said she thinks the earlier students are educated on the dangers of tobacco-product usage, the greater the chance those students will never start.

“I hope students, especially those who haven’t started, realize that the danger is too costly,” Bailey-Jones said. “My health is too valuable, so they would not engage in vaping or using tobacco products. Now, with the fentanyl epidemic that’s killing our kids, we’ve got to educate them. We’ve got to let them know.”

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