The Bear Truth

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What’s Buzzing at PR?

Photo by Ella Hall

Photo by Ella Hall

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As of late, a noticeable shift has taken place in PRHS’ halls. A shift of more surveillance and paranoia among students. The increase in security and strictness coming from the administrators is observable and has an obvious correlation with a sharp increase of vaping among the student body. Vaping, for those who don’t know, is much like smoking a cigarette except the user receives the nicotine by water vapor instead of smoke. The focus of many people engrossed in the vape culture at Palmer Ridge is a specific brand name vape pen called a Juul (pronounced like ‘jewel’). In 2015, twice as many students in the United states vaped rather than smoked cigarettes, meaning that roughly 16% of high school students actively vape. With an influx of people getting caught, drug dog searches, and a more intense atmosphere, the PR vape culture has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

There are many participants in the vaping community at Palmer Ridge, each offering a different perspective into the new wave of punishments and awareness of PR staff. Regardless of what side of the issue one falls on, everyone could agree on a few things, those being: (1) More people attending Palmer Ridge are Juuling or vaping than before and (2) There has been an obvious crackdown by staff on ridding Palmer Ridge of said problem. A common trend among participants was a position that the Palmer Ridge administration is “too harsh” and the first time punishment is “too severe” with a freshman even calling the situation a “mini drug war.” When asked why they Juul, reasons for doing it ranged from a simple, “I love the nicotine buzz,” to “It helps me forget about my problems; it calms people down.” Another interesting trend among most Juuling students was a lack of peer pressure inciting their start to the habit, most willingly went for the Juul and didn’t need their friends to even ask. On top of this, most everyone agreed that their need for the buzz was caused by the incessant stress and societal pressure posed by school. One said they felt, “like half of the people doing it have ADHD,” and all this may raise questions about the current mental health of today’s high school students.
Another common problem raised by these students was a lack of understanding and patience with students who get caught. One said, “[The administration] needs to treat us more like students” in regards to the perceived callous treatment of guilty teenagers. Another said, “If a kid brings a Juul to school, other kids are out there selling pot.” Several Juul participants feel there are more urgent things for the staff to look into and crack down on, such as drugs like marijuana or cocaine on campus or the unhappiness and poor mental health of students caught vaping in the bathroom. While some people are quick to boast about their habits, posting it on social media or passing their Juul around the bathroom, others feel bringing it to school is a recipe for disaster. A junior said, “Yeah, I don’t get searched because I don’t bring it on campus and I also don’t advertise that I Juul.” The same individual said they believe “the punishment is fair and it could even be worse, the admin should keep it up.”
The final, most prevalent thought was that it is bad for one’s body to partake. Someone said, “I told her [his girlfriend] not to” because it is bad for her body. Yet, while everyone could agree that their bodies aren’t exactly getting any healthier from it, they saw no reason to stop. Most students felt that the effects are long term and they plan on stopping at some point. Many also felt that the pros of the feeling outweighed the cons of the health detriments.

The majority of the PRHS student body may find themselves under the neutral party, indifferent to the action. These individuals say they wouldn’t do it themselves, but they remain unbothered by those who do. Juul-ers commonly said things like, “Who doesn’t Juul at PR?,” “Like 75% of PR is vaping,” and “Everyone is buzzed here.”
However, the common member of the neutral party disagreed with this idea. Both the anti and neutral bystanders said that the idea of most students Juuling is completely inaccurate and overestimated. In regards to mental health, they too agreed on the fact that poor coping mechanisms and mental health contributed to the Juuling epidemic; consequently, one said, “If there is something that is wrong with you, you need to get actual help,” referring to the many other ways to eliminate stress. This student offered up the idea of seeing a therapist or learning natural, non-chemical ways of bringing themselves up. “It’s like when one person on the team does something bad, the whole team has to run,” one said. Although indifferent, these individuals felt that innocent people at Palmer Ridge suffer because of the rise in Juuling on campus. Complacent students said that if someone is willing to bring their Juul on school grounds, they deserve the punishment because the rules are the rules and they are breaking the law. In the end, they feel students should stop making “dumb choices” and “be smart- don’t be stupid.”

The Anti-Juul students are students who would never do it themselves but also advocate for the ending of the practice and support the administration in prioritizing the issue. These students view the habit as a detriment to society and the Monument/Palmer Lake community.
“It can really mess you up,” an anti-Juul student said. All of the anti-Juul students agreed that the practice poses a major public health concern. Being a relatively new product, it isn’t certain exactly what all the negative effects could be; however, it is known that nicotine is a carcinogen and many vape pens and Juuls give off formaldehyde, the chemical that preserves dead bodies. Several athletes who Juul even said the habit had an obvious impact on their running abilities and lung capacity.
“There is a reason if they search you,” said the same individual. Their position is that people who don’t advertise their involvement in Juuling and don’t associate with known Juulers don’t get searched because they are inconspicuous. If the school is searching someone, they most likely have good reason for suspicion. Another said, “You can just look at guys and, you know, they’ve just got the look”.
As most all Juuling students protested the severity of the punishment and treatment of the matter by staff, the Anti-Juul students felt the contrary. “I think it could be more, I think the punishment should be worse,” said a student when asked about the implications of being caught with a Juul. To add to the conflicting perspectives in Palmer Ridge, the students against Juuling said, “You are not a victim if you put yourself in that situation.” Students who are searched and punished feel as if they and their friends are being unfairly targeted by authorities.

Mr. Trahan comments on the issue with addiction

Administrators Kim Sandoval and Josh Trahan are the ones responsible for students’ disciplinary concerns. When one gets caught vaping, stealing, or fighting, for instance, they are the ones who administer consequences and enforce school policy. District 38 policy on tobacco use is as follows: “Tobacco, or the display of tobacco, in any form by any person on the school grounds or at school sponsored activities is not permitted. As used in this section, “tobacco” means: any product that contains nicotine or tobacco or is derived from tobacco and is intended to be ingested or inhaled by or applied to the skin of an individual; or any electronic device that can be used to deliver nicotine to the person inhaling from the device, including but not limited to an electronic cigarettes, vape pens or any delivery device. (Ref Policy: JICDA, JICH)” This simply states that tobacco- in any form- is not allowed on school campus by law. Most students caught breaking said rule are suspended on a first offense. “I do feel that kids don’t understand necessarily that a vape pen is the same as a cigarette,” said Ms. Sandoval referring to the policy and many students’ unawareness of the law.
Everyone knows that Juuls are marketed as “sleek and easy to hide,” they’re “high tech and modern.” The tobacco industry has a history of targeting young people by popularizing cigarettes and making everyone think that smoking is the cool thing to do. It seems that, yet again, the industry has made smoking “cool.” Mr. Trahan said, “They’ve [the tobacco industry] found a way, through marketing, how to make it cool again . . . so now they’re right back into the same genre and targeting those kids,” showing how history has come full circle. “Our job is to keep young people safe and we are fighting companies that really feel this is their target group,” said Ms. Sandoval. Corporations with young peoples’ safety being last on their list of priorities trap teenagers early to lock them into a lifelong habit.
“Even if there was nothing else but nicotine, well, now you’re addicted to something and that’s never good,” Mr. Trahan said commenting on the mistaken idea that there are no negative consequences to vaping. The administrators are quickly judged as being “harsh,” “mean,” or “unsympathetic” and they want to clear that up by pointing out that they are working to guide teenagers to the best future they could have. As the rule enforcers of the school, they need to look towards the best interest of the students and community as a whole. “I think my big thing is we do care about the kids here, a lot. We take these things home with us at night . . . we come in early to meet with families, and stay late. I think my biggest thing is they need to understand we care” Ms. Sandoval said, and Mr. Trahan agreed, frustrated the student body doesn’t see the passion and care they have for the students they interact with.

Ms. Sandoval discusses the implications of being caught with a Juul

“In my opinion, yes it is a problem. Any addiction is a problem. Any exposure to nicotine is not healthy. My concern is about hearing how popular it is becoming. To me it sounds like once teens start, they do not stop.”
– Ms. Underhill, D38 nurse

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