If a current band every decides to cover the Brownsville Station's most well-known song, they may want to update the lyrics a bit to "Vapin' in the Boy's Room," or perhaps more accurately, "Juulin' in the Boy's Room."

High schoolers who smoke cigarettes has dropped to an all-time low; just 8 percent in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual report on youth and tobacco. That marks some significant progress on that front, as nearly 30 percent of high school students smoked cigarettes at the turn of the century.


By now, we all know the dangers of cigarette and tobacco products — smoking cigarettes causes nearly half a million deaths in the U.S. each year, increases the risk of lung cancer 25 times that of nonsmokers and makes it more likely to develop heart disease or stroke, too.

Awareness campaigns targeted at youth, legislation that raised taxes on tobacco products in part price people out of the habit and bans on smoking almost everywhere from restaurants, airplanes, work places and even outdoor parks have all been factors in lowering the the number of people who smoke.

Yet, the rise of tobacco-free e-cigarettes cannot be discounted as a factor either. Marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, and in some cases a smoking cessation tool, the battery-powered electronic devices allow users to "vape" heated water that comes in a large variety of nummy flavors.

A Juul, a type of e-cigarette, is a new device popular among those in middle school, high school and college. A Juul looks like a USB flash drive and you can even charge it through a laptop. At first glance, it seems like a harmless device. The reality, however, is far worse.

While most people seem to agree anecdotally that vaping is a safer than smoking regular cigarettes — and several studies in the U.K. seem to indicate this is very much the case — a litany of questions remain about the products, mainly because the so-called "vape juice" liquids still contain chemical flavoring, the long-term effects of which are unknown, and many of the liquids contain nicotine.

A few weeks back, the New York Times published a story about the popular e-cigarette devices known by the brand name Juul, which look like a portable USB flash drive. In fact, Juuls can actually be charged by plugging them into your laptop's USB port.

Juuls are more popular than other types of e-cigs with youth, likely because they can be easily concealed from grown-ups because of their design and because they create smaller plumes of vapor that can go undetected by a teacher if a student wants a quick hit in the back of the classroom. They can also be customized with "skins," giving more ammunition to those who questions whether Juul's manufacturers are aiming their product toward young people. (To the company's credit, it uses databases to verify whether people trying to buy their product online are 21 or older, but devices can easily be found on third-party websites without age verification.)

Maryland school districts are starting to react. Last month, Carroll County's Board of Education took steps to update its discipline policies for vaping in school, after an increase in the number of incidents students would openly vape or Juul (yes, kids have turned another name brand into a verb) in class, in the cafeteria or on the school bus.

While vaping and e-cigarette use was already considered a violation of the school system's tobacco policy, under the new guidelines using the devices can also results in them being handled as incidences of "disrespect or disruption."

Just this past week, Broadneck High School in Anne Arundel County removed doors from many of its bathroom stalls because of the number of students sneaking in there to vape or Juul.

Another concern is that some vape juices or Juul pods contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical compound in marijuana that is responsible for a euphoric high. Carroll officials said they've encountered students who admitted that is what they were vaping in class.

But health experts seem to be mostly concerned about high levels of addictive nicotine in vape juice, which in many cases is more concentrated than in individual cigarettes. A Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

Experts say nicotine, while not as dangerous as tar and other substances in traditional cigarettes, can still have a lasting, damaging effects on the adolescent brain development, and can impact the cardiovascular system. The jury is still out on whether vaping is a gateway to traditional tobacco use, although the evidence seems to be mounting that it is. One study shows that teens who vape are 4 to 7 times more likely to smoke cigarettes later in life. Questions about the dangers of the chemicals in the juices or pods also remain.

The Food and Drug Administration in 2016 was granted the authority to regulate e-cigarettes and related products, but has delayed many of the provisions until 2020 to collect more evidence and data. The FDA has implemented some policies to try to curb teen vaping, but it only seems to be growing in popularity.

For now, it's up to parents to be aware of what products are out there and talk to their kids about the potential dangers of vaping and Juuling.


Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.