British Columbia·Matheson

'Everybody does it': Surrey students talk candidly about teen vaping

L.A. Matheson Secondary School students in Surrey, B.C. speak to CBC anonymously about the prevalence of teen vaping.

L.A. Matheson secondary students share why they vape and how they get their fix

Students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C., say despite the health risks and the fact it is illegal for minors, vaping is rampant among teens. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

They are illegal for teens to purchase, and banned on school property, but vapes — also known as e-cigarettes — are everywhere at L.A. Matheson Secondary School.

Vapes are small, battery-powered devices that heat liquid — often flavoured and containing nicotine — into a vapour for users to inhale. 

In British Columbia, you must be 19 to purchase a vapour product. Health officials warn vaping can cause lung damage, impact brain development, and lead to nicotine addiction.

But, as CBC reporter Jason D'Souza found out, some teens aren't too worried about the law, or their lungs.

D'Souza spent a month embedded at L.A. Matheson in Surrey, B.C., to get an inside look at the lives of today's teens.

He spoke with three students about their experiences vaping. CBC News agreed to protect their identities.

The students told D'Souza they all began vaping in Grade 10, mostly because "everybody does it" and they wanted to try it for themselves.

"It seemed cool on Instagram, people doing tricks," said B.T., who now gets vape products from older friends who can purchase them legally, or from the student black market.

Instagram and other social media channels show people performing smoke tricks while vaping, which one student at L.A. Matheson says makes vaping appealing. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

'Vape for sale, hit me up'

There are postings selling vapes on Snapchat, said B.T., referring to the social media app popular with teens:  "Vape for sale, hit me up,"  she said referencing a typical ad.

L.S., who also vapes regularly, said students "fiend for it" and there is a big demand for black market sales.

"Manipulate and scam" are the words L.S. chose to describe how the sales work.

L.S. said older teens will sell their vapes to students in grades 8 and 9 for way above market price.

"I think about my siblings in those grades," admitted B.T., "but then I think, I want that money!"

L.A. Matheson principal Peter Johnston said teachers confiscate the devices when they catch teens smoking. The school also contacts the student's parents and the student must take drug and alcohol counselling.

Students at L.A. Matheson who are caught with a vape device will have it confiscated and their parents will be notified. (Steven Senne/The Associated Press)

'We treat it just like tobacco," said Johnston, who said the vaping trend came on quickly and staff tries their best to educate students about the health risks.

"They just think it tastes good," he said.

The students said they are well aware of the health risks, but what they really fear are their parents finding out.

"Teachers see everyone do it," said P.Y., "but parents take it personally."

Students at L.A. Matheson scroll through their smartphones. Some students use social media to buy and sell vapes to each other. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

'I know it's bad'

P.Y. gets vape products by purchasing them online and having them shipped to the house using another sibling's name. And, like some other teens, P.Y. also uses a vape for cannabis.

"I keep my illegal substances in a sunglasses case," said P.Y. who thinks the stash spot is safe from parents' prying eyes.

P.Y. said that if you opened most student backpacks at Matheson you are likely to find a vape, weed, cigarettes and lighters.

"I know it's bad, but we have access to coke, molly and Xans and we choose not to," said P.Y., referring to cocaine, MDMA and prescription drugs. "We still try and take care of ourselves."

Anyone interested in information about vaping can visit Health Canada's website to get the facts about health risks.

This story is part of a series called Matheson, examining the lives of students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, B.C. CBC journalist Jason D'Souza was given unparalleled access as he spent a month embedded at the high school in order to hear unfiltered stories of students today.

The Early Edition, Jason D'Souza

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