When vape pens first came out they were marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking. But as more research has been released about the longterm affects of vaping, it’s complicated that narrative.
Here in Milwaukee, the dangers of vaping came into focus when several teens were hospitalized with lung damage related to vaping. For teenager Luka Kinard, the impacts of vaping went far beyond his health. His vaping addiction became all-consuming — his grades plummeted, his mood became erratic, he even had a grand mal seizure and went to rehab for addiction treatment.
Kinard says his addiction completely changed how he saw his school day. "Instead of school being a seven to eight hour period where you go to learn, where you get your work done, now it’s a ... period where I had to hide from my teachers and hide from my peers, so people didn’t see what I was doing," he recalls.
Today, Kinard uses his experience to talk to groups of students about the dangers of vaping. Before the pandemic, he was scheduled to speak with students at Milwaukee-area schools through FACT — a Wisconsin-based anti-tobacco organization. It's now been moved to a virtual event.
Nia Kamara is a cofounder of a FACT group at Shorewood High School. She says the amount of vaping at her school is "crazy."
"I can not go to the bathroom without smelling vape," notes Kamara. Finding vaping to be a distraction to her learning, she decided to help found a FACT group at her school.
Both Kamara and Kinard say they often face push back from fellow students when they present their case against vaping, but admittedly some arguments have helped students understand the dangers. One example Kamara likes to point to are videos of e-cigarette devices exploding, which she says helped convince some students of a danger they have not yet considered.
For Kinard, he says his personal story helps convince other students.
"I talk about the stuff people don't want to talk about, which is our emotions and our feels — the last thing a teenager wants to deal with," he says. "That, shedding your skin and just shinning at the end of it, is a lot of what brings attention to my story."