Punishment for Addiction?: The Cruelty of the New Vaping Policy

by Grahame Ung

On September 27th, 2017, Principal Dr. Winters released an email to GHS students and parents informing the general public of Greenwich High School’s new anti-vape policy. This new policy has taken a bold stance on the matter, but is a step in the wrong direction. The details of this new policy include immediate suspension for anyone caught with an e-cigarette or similar device, which is marked on one’s permanent record. This portion of the policy is what should cause concern among parents and students alike.

Ultimately, this punishment will harm our student’s college applications. This is because the Common App, a near universal standard for college application, asks if the student in question has ever been suspended or expelled. A punishment as severe as this will follow our children for the rest of their academic careers. If the issue becomes a multitude of offenses of e-cigarette use, devices that administer nicotine to one’s system, one could infer its popularity is not in an individual’s control. Rather, it may be the case that students in the high school have developed an addiction. That may sound extreme for a high school student, but when analyzing data and research behind addiction, it is nothing but the harsh truth.

Nicotine addictions are not uncommon when taking into account the amount of substance being administered to one’s system. One of the more popular devices used by students features disposable cartridges, which hold a 5% nicotine solution, and come in a variety of flavors. Each cartridge holds about 0.7 mL of liquid. Doing the math, that means that per cartridge, there are roughly 35 milligrams of nicotine. An experienced e-cigarette user may finish one or more of these pods a day. For comparison, the human body absorbs about 0.95 mg of nicotine per tobacco cigarette. This means that our children are vaping the equivalent of two whole packs of cigarettes a day, perhaps more, depending on the tolerance of the individual.

In the British Medical Association journal, Tobacco Control, found that adolescents can get hooked on nicotine in mere days. It could take less than a week for a developing teenager to start a nicotine dependency. After an individual gets hooked, the addiction only gets worse. After developing a dependency, the need to have nicotine in one’s system is similar to that of a need to eat. This is because our cravings and urges are generated by the dopamine pathways located throughout our brains. Once usage becomes routine, it is implanted into the brain. It can be described as how ignoring a need to eat is impossible. Because high levels of nicotine are being routinely used, it is now part of our youth’s instinct to survive. Urges and warnings are meant to warn one that they lack a specific component of daily life. If our students are desperate enough to bring e-cigarettes and similar devices into school with them, it is clear that addiction is a major issue among the student body. But this truth isn’t necessarily apparent to our school’s administration.

Addiction is a disease. It is not a crime. If we, students, faculty, parents, and members of the community, really cared for the health of the student body, this new policy would not have been put into effect. Why administer punishment to those with a serious illness? Wouldn’t it make more sense to offer outreach or rehabilitation options to those who have already gotten hooked? It’s almost as if the administration wants our students to operate under symptoms of withdrawal, which will undeniably lead to lower grades and lower effort among the student body. The right choice, and the smart choice, is to offer a helping hand to those suffering at this current point in time.

Another flawed part of the new policy is the second portion, which states, “Any student who is in the vicinity of vaping and who we suspect is involved will have a meeting with a GHS administrator and the student’s parent.” This may mean punishment for bystanders, or those not involved with vaping. One student could simply be using the bathroom as another walks in and starts to use an e-cigarette, and would be deemed punishable by this new set of rules. If someone can be reprimanded for being in the wrong place at the wrong time by coincidence, and there is no evidence that they are actually partaking in the event of vaping, punishment should not be considered.

The creators of these rules reason them by claiming that devices are typically passed from student to student. Even if that is true, it does not fall under the principles of probable cause. If security guards barge into the bathroom as one student is washing his hands, another is just leaving, and two are using an e-cigarette, four of those students may be reprimanded or dealt with by the school. There is no way for security to know what students are doing when out of sight without constant surveillance; seeing as to how these events typically take place in bathrooms, this is out of the question.

While it is understandable that using fear related tactics is necessary to teach our students the dangers of such devices, taking such radical action in attempt to reduce the usage of such products will not be effective. Change is always gradual, and this is no different. To ensure the safety of the student body’s health and well being, we, as students, parents, and teachers should push for a more understanding policy that will help our students quit the use of e-cigarettes rather than punish the usage on campus.

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