Behind the Curtains of Smoke at Vista



Bathrooms are shut to control the vaping problem, but is it effective?

Drew DeAnda and Gavin Martinez

Ten years ago, e-cigarettes were a fad that many people thought would come and go. Today, over 2.5 million students in middle school and high school rely on it daily, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and the Center of Disease Control.

Everyone knows how bad vaping is. The countless rallies and advisory lessons preaching the dangers of vaping remind us about it. Yet, students continue to crowd themselves into bathrooms in between and during classes to vape with friends. It’s a matter that affects all Vista students, those who vape and those who don’t alike. 

The motivation to vape is hardly unknown by school officials. Students do it in order to “[cope] with mental health issues such as anxiety and stress and to fit in with their peers,” said school nurse Rhonda Franks. 

Additionally, there has been an increase in addiction rates “because the concentration of nicotine and THC in vape products is so high,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Jason Javier-Watson. Both the daily pressures of growing up and a greater dependence on tobacco products culminate in a student body with a serious vaping problem.

These growing rates of high school vape use cause great concern due to the health effects associated with it. It is a common misconception that e-cigarettes, with all of their intriguing flavors, can be used as an alternative for other forms of tobacco consumption. On the contrary, “[vaping] is not safer or healthier than traditional cigarettes,” said Franks. “Vape cartridges can contain a variety of substances such as nicotine or marijuana. [If] you are obtaining vapes from unreliable sources, they can be laced with other drugs that you may not be aware of such as fentanyl.” The imminent danger to students from vaping incentivized the administration to take action in order to curb this issue.

Closing many of the bathrooms during the day is one solution the school administration tries. Many students find that this is not adequate, with one anonymous senior saying, “When the school left all the bathrooms open you may have seen 3 or 4 kids in a bathroom vaping but now that the school has closed the bathrooms you’ll see anywhere from 8-20 students in a bathroom only using them to vape. Closing the bathroom doesn’t prevent vaping, it just increases the amount of students vaping in the open bathrooms.” Both H-Building bathrooms have been shut down, and sometimes even the E-building ones as well. However, students often agree that the physical closure of the bathrooms doesn’t diminish the amount of vaping. 

 Many have even expressed how it affects them on a personal level. “Vaping has – for many – made usually accessible places, such as the bathroom, uncomfortable places,” said junior Colin Weis. Others at Vista share the same feelings—sometimes even avoiding the bathroom altogether because of the longer lines, or in order to not interact with those who vape. 

Other students say that bathroom closures adversely affect students who experience menstruation. “Most every girl and of course others have a period every month, closing the bathrooms means people can’t take care of themselves,” said an anonymous junior. 

Another consequence of closing the bathrooms for many of the students is the academic impact. “We already don’t have a lot of bathrooms on campus, so closing them would be more walking around, meaning missing more class which is bad for our education,” one anonymous sophomore said. With students having to deal with multiple closed bathrooms, they end up spending more time going to the further bathrooms that are open. This situation becomes more complicated when students have to deal with longer lines when they do find a bathroom that is open. This extra time added on could potentially be the reason that they are late to class.

To the students, the situation is not getting better. 

However, the administration shows a different perspective, arguing for the necessity of bathroom closures. “It is true that limiting the number of spaces for students to use vape products does not solve the problem in and of itself. However, it is easier to monitor these activities when bathroom spaces are limited,” said Javier-Watson. “We don’t make the decision to close restrooms lightly – we are constantly monitoring bathroom use and shifting our approach when needed.” 

To decrease tobacco use, students instead suggested that the school should start to penalize more. For instance, junior Kunal Tarmaster recommended that the school should start “being more strict about enforcing rules.” Many students feel that without more direct intervention, students will continue to vape, causing disruptions to the rest of the student body. 

From the district’s perspective, they confront this matter by implementing various programs on and off campus. Lea Rathbun, the Folsom Cordova Unified School District’s TUPE (Tobacco-Use Prevention Education) Grant Coordinator, elaborated on these programs. She pointed out one called “Brief Intervention Support,” where students can have “2-3 sessions with the school mental health specialist that respectfully assists students on reflecting on their use (pros/cons), assessing the impacts, identifying triggers, [and] exploring—ways one might cope with the trigger situations and goal setting.”  

Additionally, Rathbun explained that when students are sent to Saturday school for vaping, in many cases they have begun taking the “My Healthy Future self-paced online course.” These programs grant students to actually assess what they can change in their lives and address their addiction, without facing penalization, which could be more successful for students in the coming years.

Rathbun also mentioned how students can utilize helplines and apps like the “SmokefreeTXT for Teens” or “The California Smokers Helpline” in order to gain support from trained professionals to assist them in cutting out nicotine from their lives.

A new California state bill went into effect in December of last year banning the selling of flavored tobacco products or ones with flavor enhancers. Officials like Rathbun are optimistic that the bill “will impact youth use rates since the product will be less appealing.” 

While these programs aren’t faultless and their effectiveness will only be seen in time, they demonstrate the district’s attempt to better address the multifaceted issue that is teenage vaping on campus. 

Ultimately, despite the potential of these programs, “The best way to help your friends is to have conversations about vaping with them. Whether they use vape products or not, it is important for teenagers to talk to one another about stress and coping. No one knows the challenges of high school students better than you!” said Javier-Watson.