Broward News

New Study: Half of Broward Teens Have Tried Vaping

Maylinn Arroyo owns three vape pens. She says she used to smoke but doesn't any more.

 “It was definitely a fad, but it’s not any more," the 18-year-old, who lives in Sunrise, explains. "There are people who still think it’s the bomb, though. I can show you pictures of my ex doing it every day on Snapchat.”

According to a new study, nearly half the teens in Broward County have tried vaping — inhaling vapor through a personal vaporizer. But don't worry, parents. That trend is over.

Arroyo’s friend Danielle Small, who is also 18 and from Sunrise, says she vapes from time to time, though not every day like she used to. “I like it better than hookah, because it gives you a bigger cloud of smoke. You can do tricks with it.” But, she adds, “That shit’s not considered cool.”

Did it used to be cool?

“Maybe, like, last year.”

The Florida Department of Health, which conducts an annual youth risk behavior survey, recently reported that 45 percent of high school students in Broward County have tried vaping. (For Florida as a whole, the total is 37 percent.) That number has adults concerned. The United Way of Broward County's Commission on Substance Abuse, which just published its annual trend report, suggests that teenagers who use e-cigarettes will become addicted to nicotine and eventually turn to traditional tobacco products. Also, the report claims, “Consumers have no way of knowing whether electronic smoking devices are safe or what potentially harmful chemicals the products contain.” Meanwhile, the internet is rife with articles with titles like, “5 Signs Your Kid is Vaping.”

Nationally, e-cigarette use by high schoolers has grown tenfold between 2011 and 2015, from 1.5 percent to 16 percent, a study by the Centers for Disease Control reported in April. Five percent of middle schoolers vaped last year, up from 0.6 percent in 2011. While concerns about health problems like lowered immunity have been raised, some also claim vaping is a less dangerous alternative to smoking. Indeed, teen smoking rates fell over the same period, the CDC found.

The state banned sales of e-cigarettes to minors in 2014.  For first-time offenders, the penalty is a $25 fine or 16 hours of community service and possibly loss of a driver's license.

Nick Molina, CEO of the Miami-based International Vapor Group, thinks that most of the fears about teens vaping are completely ridiculous. On one hand, he agrees with the United Way — they shouldn’t be doing it. “I think that minors shouldn’t be sold any addictive products,” he explains.

He points out that the industry is now heavily regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which recently released a 499-page rule book for e-cigarette manufacturers. Also, the number of teenagers who smoke traditional cigarettes — which just about everyone can agree are more dangerous — has declined as vaping has become more popular. According to the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, just 2.2% of teenagers in Broward County have smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days — an all-time low in the survey’s 15-year history.

In any case, if there was ever a valid reason to panic, that moment has passed. The teenagers have moved on.

“I feel like old people are into it,” Rafaela Diaz, who is 17 and lives in Miramar, says. “Like, 40-year-olds.” She tried vaping once, but it hurt her lungs and made her cough, and besides, she didn’t like how the e-cigarette looked. “If you see people carrying it on the street, it looks like a Wii remote.”

Had vaping ever been popular among her friends?

“Like… in middle school.”

In fact, sixteen teenagers at the Pembroke Lakes Mall and Broward Mall on a random Wednesday afternoon said preteens are vaping these days, which contributes to high schoolers’ belief that it’s already passé.

“Eighth graders do it all the time for attention,” Vanessa Ribiero, 15, of Cooper City, says. “They’ll post videos on Instagram and think they’re so cool.”

Meanwhile, some older kids have moved on to hookahs.

As Marcanthony Todd, who is 19 and just graduated from Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines, explains, “Vaping is just… basic.”

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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.