Researching the dangers of vaping

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nestor Cruz
  • 944th Fighter Wing

A Reserve Citizen Airman with the 944th Operations Group is helping her students fight a war against an enemy preying on children: vaping.

Tech. Sgt. Perla Tapia, 944th OG noncommissioned officer in charge of command support, is a chemistry teacher at Dysart High School, El Mirage. She tasked her students to research the dangers of vaping but encouraged them to go a step further.

“I challenged them to go out to different classes and present the information,” Tapia said. “We found that nearly 80 percent of high school students are vaping. We also found out some are starting as early as middle school, where it’s a cool trend right now.”

While the main focus for in-class presentations was within the high school, Tapia also wanted to share their research with younger students.

“We targeted all the classrooms but our primary target audience was freshman students,” she said. “But I also reached out to the elementary school behind the high school and told them we’d love to share our research and I would get a group of students to go and make their presentations.”

Patricia Beaird, Dysart High School science department lead and physics teacher, praised Tapia and her students after sharing their findings with Beaird’s freshman class.

“It is always so much more impactful for students to hear from their peers the dangers of engaging in certain behaviors,” said Beaird. “Their passion for the subject matter and the seriousness with which they approached their mission was evident.”

Tapia used her military experience to help her students go out of their comfort zone to become leaders among their peers.

“I’ve been with the 944th OG for almost seven years and we’re always looking for innovative ways to grow, learn, think better, and impact the big picture,” she said. “It’s that mindset I carry into my classroom. I’m always thinking ‘Let’s not keep it within these four walls of our classroom. Let’s think bigger and outside of our school’.”

The students were initially intimidated with the idea of public speaking, but Tapia’s encouragement gave them the boost of confidence they needed.

“When they left the classroom to do presentations, they were scared and nervous,” said Tapia. “But when they came back they asked me ‘Can we do this again?’ They were so empowered to be able to make a difference.”

One of Tapia’s 10th grade students, Hailey Neumann, said the project helped her to grow as an individual and gave her awareness about vaping myths.

“Doing this project allowed me to improve myself as a student because peer pressure is a real deal these days,” Neumann said. “By doing this project about the vape epidemic, I now understand the consequences of it and I can make wiser decisions accordingly.”

The project began with the school district distributing educational materials on the dangers of vaping. Tapia’s students conducted their own research and uncovered some disturbing facts, including hidden ways for students to vape inside the classroom.

“There are different things kids are using to vape inside classrooms including headphones and hoodie drawstrings,” Tapia said.

Tapia’s students found out that companies are targeting children to be their consumers. Vaping cartridges are available in various “fun” flavors including bubblegum and some devices include games.

One of the myths surrounding vaping is that it’s a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. According to research findings from Tapia’s students, this myth poses a serious threat for children and teens.

“Kids are extremely addicted to vaping,” she said. “One cartridge equals 2-3 cigarette packs.

Typically, someone new to smoking will start with one or two cigarettes … some kids vape up to 2-3 cartridges per day.

“The chemicals and drugs contained in a vaping cartridge are affecting teen brain development and could also lead to popcorn lung disease (a condition that damages the lungs' smallest airways and causes coughing and shortness of breath),” Tapia added.

But wait, there’s more.

“The biggest thing we learned is [vaping devices] can explode when there’s no more liquid in there,” said Tapia. “You’re burning metal so you could be potentially smoking lead. Children are ingesting the metal and it can also explode, in some cases in the face or fingers.”

The vaping presentations have certainly gained momentum and the effort shows no signs of slowing down.

According to Tapia, the class will continue to educate fellow students on the dangers of vaping.

“We’re going to continue sharing our findings to build awareness with other students, schools, and families.” she said.