Up in Smoke
By Julie Potrykus and Derek Witzenman
Despite the numerous negatives regarding smoking, the motivations to smoke continue to be relevant for some teens.
“I just like the activity of smoking,” senior Eddie Leal said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. I like to relax and take a couple of drags, watch the smoke fly, take a moment. It’s just wondrous.”
Cigarettes are often an acquired taste, as Leal found. He experimented with smoking periodically until last year when he began to embrace the habit.
“Usually, people would always offer me cigarettes,” Leal said. “I was not big on them, so I would say no. After a while, it was like ‘sure, I’ll take it so you’ll leave me alone.’ That day I was just bored, and it was at that point that I actually asked [for them] instead of having them offered. I kinda dig them now.”
The social component of smoking is a great influence on many smokers’ decision to start and continue the activity despite that the law allows that only people 18 and older can purchase tobacco products. Many of Leal’s friends partake in smoking with Leal, and the group shares cigarettes together.
“Buying a pack of cigarettes is like buying a pack of gum,” Leal said. “You pull one out for yourself, and of course, you have to share with your friends. Usually, we all end up [smoking] together.”
Although primarily a social habit, the choice to smoke is dependent upon the individual’s motivations.
“I sense some maturity behind it,” Leal said. “It makes you feel cooler. It’s more of an ego thing. Your opinion matters the most about cigarettes, not what other people think of it. Most people disagree with it because cigarettes are bad, and that’s what people are trained to think.”
However, smoking has been attributed to the most preventable cause of death and sickness. The impacts of smoking range from blackened gums to lung cancer. Senior Aric Zieglemann has noticed many of the short-term health impairments caused by cigarette smoking, such as limited lung capacity and a lack of athletic ability.
“Cigarettes never seemed to impact my health,” Zieglemann said. “Then I stopped running and started smoking, and when I tried to run again, I felt the damage immediately.”
The dangerous ramifications of smoking have prompted many smokers to quit or seek alternatives. One such alternative is electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, which are considered to be healthier than traditional cigarettes.
“I mainly started smoking electric cigarettes because my parents were worried,” Zieglemann said. “I wish I would’ve known about them five years ago. I never really regret my choice to smoke cigarettes because I rarely do anymore.”
E-cigarettes are considered a safer replacement to traditional cigarettes, but little medical research has been conducted to determine the long term health effects. Many view e-cigarettes as a safer alternative because smokers can limit their nicotine content in each drag. Regardless of the reduced nicotine content, e-cigarettes are still considered tobacco products, especially by the Student Code of Conduct, which forbids the use of all tobacco products.
“We follow what is set forth by the Student Code of Conduct, which is adopted and approved by the School Board,” assistant principal Justin Grimes said. “The largest issue is a lack of awareness because the electronic cigarettes have always been in the School Board Policy. I don’t think it is understood by a majority of students that [having] electronic cigarettes is considered the same as possession of tobacco. Therefore, it is treated the same.”
Outside of school, students struggle with finding locations to smoke. One hundred percent of College Station non-hospitality businesses, restaurants and freestanding bars are smoke-free due to the increased public concern for secondhand smoke. Despite these limitations, many teen smokers like Leal continue smoking with little aversion to their habits.
“There’s nothing to really quit,” Leal said. “If I don’t have any, I don’t smoke. Plain as that. In the end, it’s only your decision to smoke. You can’t blame anyone else. I do it ‘cause I honestly like the taste.”
Despite the motivations and influences, many teen smokers adhere to the belief that the decision to smoke is a singular one individuals choose.
“I think that if you want to smoke, you should really assess the pros and cons,” said senior Ariel Palmisano, who has been smoking for three years. “It can be addictive, though not everyone gets addicted to them. It just depends on whether you want to risk living with a dependency for the rest of your life.”