BOKEH STOCK via shutterstock
Vaping (BOKEH STOCK via shutterstock)

Smokin’ in the boys’ room has a whole new meaning in schools these days — and it’s no laughing matter.

No longer are student restrooms filled with cigarette smoke from the lungs of rebellious teenagers. Nowadays, bathrooms are more likely to smell like strawberries or cotton candy — two e-cigarette flavors teens crave — demonstrating how adolescent smoking has taken an entirely new, and dangerous, turn.

“Kids were disappearing from class for longer and longer times,” Francis Thompson, principal of Jonathan Law High School in Milford, recently told NBC News. “In the past year or so we’ve noticed an increase in the number of students going into the bathroom and they are spending more time. What we found the common denominator was: They were vaping.”

Law High School is not alone. One of every seven high schoolers (14.7 percent) in the state admitted to vaping last year, according to a Department of Public Health study released in October, twice the incidence of vaping from two years ago. Meanwhile, only 3.5 percent of high school students said they smoked traditional cigarettes in 2017.

Teen vaping is so pervasive, the Federal Drug Administration has taken notice.

“We see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger,” said FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb in September. Specifically, Gottlieb said his agency would target both retail and online sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

Currently, Connecticut state law prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18. CTNewsJunkie columnist Terry Cowgill just reported that one Massachusetts town raised the age for purchasing any such “tobacco products” to 21.

I believe it’s a move that Connecticut officials should consider seriously after discussing vaping with one Connecticut addiction professional.

project courage
Andy Buccaro is the executive director of Project Courage, a substance-abuse recovery center in Old Saybrook focusing on adolescents. The program uses a “developmental theory base” that recognizes how “adolescents and young adults typically aren’t able to accurately perceive risks, foresee consequences, and lack impulse control.” In other words, Buccaro and his staff understand the unique needs of teenagers with addiction issues.

Buccaro explained how “as of 2015 the toxicity and health hazards of vaping nicotine were still questionable,” but added that “vaping is without a doubt addictive. Assuming the primary purpose of the vape is to use nicotine, the brain is still being bathed in nicotine which will lead to changes in neurochemistry that will result in a dependency.”

While Buccaro said that he has not treated adolescents with exclusively vape-related problems, “we do see a lot of clients who come for services at Project Courage for other substances who also vape, [but] express no interest in addressing their use of e-cigs, vape pens, or Juuls. This is similar to individuals who smoke cigarettes — typically the last substance to go.”

One of the biggest dangers of vaping for teens is the way in which it can lead to more destructive behaviors.

“If one is vaping cannabis (marijuana) — which is as popular if not more popular than nicotine use, particularly among adolescents and young adults — the risk for dependency is also present,” Buccaro said. “In fact, using a vape pen to smoke cannabis significantly increases the chances of developing a substance-use disorder because the concentration of THC is so much higher in the distilled ‘wax’ or oil form of cannabis that is used in a vape pen.”

That’s an essential point to consider as Connecticut contemplates legalizing recreational marijuana.

Even if e-cigarettes are “only” used as a tobacco alternative to help quit smoking, teens are deluding themselves.

“While this makes logical sense at first glance, it’s important to understand that substance use rarely follows logic,” Bucarro said. “Most often we observe an individual start vaping as part of their plan to ‘quit’ smoking and within a few weeks they are vaping and smoking cigarettes.”

Anyway you look at it, e-cigarettes have raised the stakes for teens attracted to their siren song as a tantalizing alternative to smoking — a sober reality for health officials and legislators to recognize as they address this relatively new public-health hazard.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 32st year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.