We Get It, You Vape

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   It’s a daily scene: you walk through the West Ranch parking lot through a sea of cars with cracked windows. At first nothing’s unusual until smoke starts billowing out in clouds so thick you can’t see inside, and a smell so potent that the entire parking lot smells like Jolly Ranchers. Over the last few years it’s become a phenomenon. It seems as if everybody either vapes or knows someone who does.

   “I like doing and learning new tricks. I also honestly just like the way it feels,” said a West Ranch student who wished to remain anonymous.

   Despite the increasing popularity, there are still many people that are opposed to vaping.

   The ingredients are the most controversial part of vape. Although it is considered harmless because it doesn’t contain tobacco, many still contain nicotine, which has several dangerous side effects. It travels through the body’s bloodstream, reaching the brain within seven seconds. From there, the brain releases chemicals that give the body a happy sensation. Once you’ve consumed nicotine, the brain cells become addicted, a person starts to get that “happy feeling,” and it’s hard to stop. Over time, this repeated inhalation of smoke threatens the health of your heart, arteries and lungs which can increase the risk of heart attack, strokes, and lung disease. Vape’s claim to safety is that nicotine levels can be adjusted by the users until there is no nicotine left. Because of this, vaping can be potentially harmless.   

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   While many may look at vaping as a pointless hobby, there is another side to it. A lot of people have turned to vaping in order to quit smoking. I headed to a prime source of vape pens here in Santa Clarita, the Smoke Depot. It’s a relatively new smoke shop which opened in 2015 at the mall on the bottom of Valencia Boulevard. Since then, the business has expanded rapidly. To be honest, I expected to walk into a store full of teenagers excited to waste money on shiny new vape cases and flavorful juices, but that’s not what I saw at all.

   I walked into the shop, and was instantly hit by an overpowering sweet birthday cake fragrance, strong enough to make me stop for a second. I glanced around the shop. Thousands of products, including vape cases, vape juice, cigarettes, vape pens, and hookahs lined the shelves along the sides of the store. On one side, a woman looking to be in her college years assisted a group of young adults with various vape products. I watched as one of the men inhaled smoke and smoothly let it out. Others were trying to blow smoke rings with their vapes, joking around with each other.

  I was greeted by another employee looking to be in his college years. He directed me over to a middle-aged man, the owner, sitting behind a register. He is Farid Zahreddine, and he agreed to let me ask him a few questions about why he opened the Smoke Depot and why he vapes himself. Before the introduction was over, Zahreddine reached for his own vape, took in a deep breath, and slowly exhaled the vapor, which came right up into my face, its smell once again jarring me.

   The interview commenced, and I found Zahreddine to be a very amiable owner.

  “I opened this store after successfully quitting smoking cigarettes. During my journey, I went from cigarettes to e-cigarettes. With e-cigarettes, I was able to gradually decrease the nicotine level in the juice, and worked my way from 100% nicotine to 0% nicotine. Now a days, vaping is not necessary for me, I just do it to pass time,” said Zahreddine, before taking another puff of the vape.

  The true reason Zahreddine opened the store was that after he stopped smoking and started vaping, he felt 10 years younger and his health vastly improved. After trying to use nicotine patches and other methods of quitting, only vaping worked. He wanted to help others with their smoking addictions by introducing them to vaping, which has been proven to be cleaner.

  “In this store, you will only find products from companies who label what is in their product. Other store owners mix their own juices, but I chose not to because I want customers to know exactly what they are inhaling into their bodies,” he explained.

  Interestingly enough, most of Zahreddine’s customers are older people who are trying to quit smoking. Our interview was interrupted by an elderly couple who needed assistance.

  After friendly greetings, the man and woman, who looked to be in their sixties, took out a vape case and explained that it was not working. Zahreddine took out some tools and took apart the case, and played around with it. In a few minutes, he had finally found the problem, a faulty battery. It was easy to see how much Zahreddine cared by the way he thoroughly explained things to the couple, and how he was so personal with them and his other customers. He proceeded to replace the battery for a discounted price.

  “I am really doing this to help people stop smoking, and I have helped close to 300 people quit since I started this business. There is nothing I can do about the teenagers who come here, especially those under the age of 18. Some use fake IDs to buy our products, and others have their parents come in to buy things. I can try to stop this, but in the end, it is up to them,” said Zahreddine.

  Because it is located just down the street from West Ranch and up the street from College of the Canyons, the Smoke Depot is a popular store for teenagers in Santa Clarita. However, you must be 18 or older to purchase products from the store. Zahreddine claims that he kicks out at least 10 high schoolers per day because they are underaged.

  At the Smoke Depot, one vape case usually costs around $150, while each juice bottle is about $12. For a high schooler, this seems to be pretty expensive. Even though the $150 is a one-time payment, a vaper goes through an average of three to four juice bottles a month, which amounts to $36-48. However, looking at it from the perspective of quitting smoking, vaping is a much cheaper option. A cigarette smoker spends approximately $200 on cigarettes per month, and the maximum amount spent on vaping per month is much less. When the smoke fades, the financial benefits of going from smoking to vaping is clear.

  But most West Ranch students aren’t smokers trying to improve their quality of life by switching from cigarettes to vaping. According to a study by Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of teenage smokers has decreased 18%. The number of vaping teenagers has tripled since 2012, and it’s increasing steadily. For teenagers, vape isn’t a way to quit smoking. Given the choice between an e-cigarette and a cigarette, an e-cigarette is a better option. Given the choice between an e-cigarette and nothing?

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   Many of the health effects of vape haven’t been fully studied, although the the general consensus is negative.  A Harvard study conducted at the end of last year confirmed the presence of toxic chemicals in the vape juice that destroy the lungs’ airways. A recent scientific study presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science done on both people and rodents shows the vast difference between cigarettes, vape, and not smoking at all. Their results were similar to Harvard’s.

  The United States Food and Drug Administration is relatively vague on the topic of vape. On the FDA website, the information supplied about e-cigarettes is limited. It discusses potential effects of vaping, which include pneumonia, congestive heart failure, abnormally low blood pressure, and more. In response to these possible health risks, the FDA had proposed a series of regulations last year. These new rules would, if enacted, create a black market for e-cigarettes. The final regulations are on there way to becoming official, but the specifics have not been released about what they are. However, they have the potential to drastically change both the vape industry and vaping habits of e-cigarette users.

  If so much about vape remains a mystery, it begs the question: why is vaping so widespread among students, particularly here at West Ranch?

  “All of my friends do it – actually pretty much everybody I know either owns a vape or uses somebody else’s. It’s just something you do when you’re with people,” said another anonymous West Ranch student.

  To put it simply, vape is “in” right now. It’s glorified by the media, endorsed by A-list celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, and a normality among many groups of friends. As teens living in the digital age, we are impressionable. We are prone to peer pressure, the idea that we all roll our eyes at because we’ve been bugged about it since elementary school. Vape has become a fashion, and everyone wants to keep up with the trend. There’s nothing wrong with keeping up with popular culture. However, this latest craze might lead into something much worse.

All of my friends do it – actually pretty much everybody I know either owns a vape or uses somebody else’s. It’s just something you do when you’re with people”

— West Ranch Student

  There is also a common stereotype that a lot of students at West Ranch come from high income families. In a study conducted by the Panel Study Of Income Dynamics, families with higher incomes tend to have a higher history of drug use. While this study applied to marijuana and alcohol, it is likely that the same rule can apply to vape, which is just as pricey a hobby. With the vape outlets that are popping up all over town, e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly accessible. This is great for the smoke shops and the industry, but is it great for you?

  This is the two-sided story to vaping. On one hand, it is easy to see its great benefits when compared to smoking cigarettes. Vaping is cleaner, safer, and cheaper. However, if a high schooler whose first experience with “drugs” is e-cigarettes, vaping may be dangerous. It is costly, and the medical effects are unknown. While the truth about vaping is yet to be uncovered, the industry has continued to grow. Will this trend continue?