Teen Vape Culture And Nicotine Addiction Make It Hard To Quit, Kids Say : Shots - Health News One in 4 high school seniors say they have vaped in the past month. And for heavy users, scary headlines about serious illness and death are no match for nicotine addiction and peer pressure.

High School Vape Culture Can Be Almost As Hard To Shake As Addiction, Teens Say

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

More than 1,000 cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping have been reported across the country. Twenty-six people have died so far, but many young people say vaping remains entrenched in their lives. They do it at school, at home and with friends. Elly Yu with member station WAMU takes us to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., for a closer look at the culture of teen vaping.

ELLY YU, BYLINE: Will started vaping his sophomore year. He and some friends went to a convenience store and asked someone to buy some nicotine pods for them. He didn't know what to expect.

WILL: I just sort of remember, like, using it a whole bunch of times, like, in a row, and it's, like, this huge buzz sensation - like, headrush. And it just, like, didn't really stop.

YU: It didn't stop for the next year and a half. He says he was able to buy his own pods online, like on eBay.

WILL: And, like, I just kept doing it. I remember especially when I got home, I just kept using my own for, like, the entire night until I sort of felt sick in my stomach.

YU: We're not using Will's last name because he bought nicotine products while underage. He's now senior at a high school outside D.C. He says the rush in his head that he used to get went away, but he still kept buying the nicotine juice...

WILL: Over time, my lungs started to hurt.

YU: ...Until last spring, when a friend jumped into a pool with his Juul device. He spent hours trying to fix it, trying to save it. It didn't work, so he decided not to buy another one.

WILL: It certainly just felt like a serious craving for three weeks straight, and I can see why it'd be so hard for other people to stop.

YU: He doesn't vape nicotine anymore but says he'll still vape THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high. But the news about the hospitalizations and deaths hasn't really stopped him or his friends.

WILL: I feel like for a lot of people, that's just a chance they're willing to take, you know? I don't think a lot of kids are thinking about the future. It's mostly just, like, going back to the social culture and, like, teen culture. It really just has a lot to do with, like, social standards and pressure.

YU: Winston Churchill is a high school in Potomac, Md. Last spring, three students had to be taken to an emergency room after vaping THC. Louis Schreiber is a senior there. He doesn't vape himself, but he's skeptical that what happened at Churchill - and even the national wave of illnesses and deaths - will have an effect.

LOUIS SCHREIBER: There's those hard-liners who say, hey. If it hasn't happened to me, it's not going to happen to me, or until then, I'm fine. And then there's people that - I'm hoping it's been a wakeup call.

YU: Louis is trying to start an anti-vaping group on campus. He has asthma and avoids the bathrooms at school because of vaping.

SCHREIBER: It's viewed as a cool, popular thing, and to stick out in high school for any reason, certainly among this generation, is hard, and going against this would be almost, you know, impossible.

YU: Brandi Heckert is the principal of Louis' high school and has watched vaping explode in popularity.

BRANDI HECKERT: Then all of a sudden, it went from, like, zero to 60 in, like, no time.

YU: She says teachers and staff have come a long way in recognizing the different kinds of vapes. They can look like a flash drive or another digital device. But she worries confiscating them can only go so far.

HECKERT: I think what's scary for us a lot of times is that unless they have some cartridge on them or a package on them, we don't know what's in there, and so that makes it really challenging to help them if they're in need. I mean, last year, we did have several students that we had to seek medical attention, and we just didn't know.

YU: Phoebe Chambers is a junior at Churchill High. She says the hospitalizations that have been in the news have scared some of her classmates.

PHOEBE CHAMBERS: People who have never vaped probably don't want to try it now, but kids who are addicted - I think they are struggling. I have one friend who quit because they realized how bad it was, and it was very, very hard for them.

YU: Even if a teen does try to stop, vapes are hard to avoid.

CHAMBERS: It's not just something that's limited to one social group. It's not just, like, the group of kids who, like, are stoners. It's the athletes. It's the nerds. It's everybody. It's infiltrated every social - like, every type of person knows someone. Maybe they are that person who is vaping.

YU: Students say that even if they stop carrying their own vapes, there's always someone nearby with one, and it's easy to hit their devices to get a buzz. For NPR News, I'm Elly Yu in Montgomery County, Md.

CORNISH: And this story comes from NPR's reporting partnership with Kaiser Health News and WAMU.

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