Just as kids went back to school this year, amid what health officials call a teen vaping epidemic, the headline-making news began: vaping was making people sick. Nationwide, more than 1,600 people have been treated for serious lung illnesses, and another 34 have died, according to the CDC.
The kids heard the news, but many continued to vape.
“We’ve had so many talks on it that it kind of gets bothersome,” said Taylor Brett, a senior at Danvers High School. “The school is using a lot of fear tactics to kind of scare kids away from it and I feel like it’s so over-used at this point that it’s not really helping.”
During her time in high school, she’s watched as vaping expanded from one group to another. She said most kids have tried it and many are regular users.
Her friend Chloe Callahan, also a Danvers High School senior, saw so many of her peers vaping she did a school project last year to find out why.
“Fitting in, just want to be cool — 'my friends are doing it,'” answered Callahan, when asked what she found in her survey.
Danvers High is hardly unique. Two years ago, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found more than 41 percent of high school students had tried vaping and 20 percent were regular users.
Gov. Charlie Baker cited those statistics last month when he ordered a temporary ban on vape product sales in Massachusetts. Baker argued the products should remain off store shelves while health officials figure out the cause of vape-related lung illness.
This month the ban survived a court challenge. It may also have done something the reports of vaping illnesses and death did not: change behavior.
“I have seen the most decrease in vape users I have since I started high school,” said Brett. “I think the ban is an action instead of just words, and it’s an action that’s making it more difficult for kids to get the stuff that they need, and it’s so out of reach. It’s kind of stopping them.”
But the ban may also be driving former smokers back to cigarettes.
At the 30 convenience stores he owns in Massachusetts, Leo Vercollone noticed as vaping gained popularity and cigarette sales decreased about seven percent per year in the past several years. He said since the ban, his store managers have responded to an increased demand for cigarettes.
"Where they may have ordered something in the vicinity of 20 to 30 cartons a week, now it’s up to 35 cartons,” he said.
Vercollone also owns three convenience stores in New Hampshire, and said at his stores in Salem and Nashua — near the border with Massachusetts — vape sales have tripled.
Vape customers, he said, tend to be adults who’ve switched from cigarettes. But in New Hampshire, buyers only have to be 18 to buy vape products. And the state line is just a 30-minute drive from Danvers High.
“Kids are turning 18, everyone knows upperclassmen — they’ll have them get it for them,” said Brett. “Sometimes I think it’s not 'cause they don’t want to stop [vaping], it’s because they can’t stop.”