Fewer students are vaping at Brunswick High School this fall following the implementation of a townwide flavored tobacco ban in June, according to school administrators and students, yet many teens continue to struggle with nicotine addiction.

“There’s a certain segment of our population that is starting to realize this is really unhealthy for them, and so they’re kind of backing away from it,” said Gino Ring, the school district’s licensed alcohol and drug counselor. “Unfortunately, for those that are already involved, it’s got a real strong clinch on them.”

Middle and high schools across the nation saw exploding rates of electronic cigarette usage after the launch of the JUUL in 2015. In early 2022, 14% of American high school students and 3.3% of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes within the past 30 days, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s National Youth Tobacco Survey.

As recently as this spring, the sleek, easily concealable devices were so ubiquitous at Brunswick that it was often impossible to go to the bathroom without finding a line of students waiting to take a hit of nicotine in the stalls, said senior Ellie Sullivan.

“Last year it was pretty rough” she said. “Overall, it’s hard to avoid.”

The problem has gotten better this year, according to Assistant Principal Tim Gagnon. He didn’t know whether to attribute the decline in vaping to Brunswick’s flavored tobacco ban or to prevention efforts within the school, including the installation of vape detectors in bathrooms.


Junior Nate Wayne agreed the difference has been noticeable, especially in the bathrooms that had previously been “madhouses.”

“The whole environment seems less chaotic and more orderly,” he said.

Vaping in Brunswick has come down from its peak, when all types of students were experimenting with nicotine, but many hooked teens continue to use, Gagnon said.

“I still think we have a fair amount of students that are addicted to the nicotine,” he said. “This is real, and it’s in a lot of kids’ hands.”

While there’s a dearth of research on the long-term effects of e-cigarette use, nicotine addiction is already harming teens’ mental health, said Dr. Alyssa Goodwin, a pediatrician who advises the Brunswick School Department on health matters. She said her patients often come to her with conditions like anxiety, depression and insomnia, unaware that nicotine withdrawal is often the root cause of their problems.

“Many of them are vaping the equivalent of more than one pack a day, and they have no clue,” she said. “They come in, and they’re so addicted.”


To combat the vaping epidemic, Brunswick’s schools have recently shifted their policies to focus more on educating and treating students caught with nicotine and less on punishing them, Gagnon said. In the past, students would get suspended for up to three days, but now they’re instead pushed to meet with counselors like Ring.

Still, many students remain reluctant to quit or resigned to the idea they can’t, according Gagnon. Just as problematic, he said, rates of THC use in school appear to be up, a problem Goodwin is also tracking in her own practice.

While it can be frustrating to try to help teens who don’t want to engage on the issue, Ring said Brunswick’s modest improvements on vaping show the effort is worth it.

“It’s the proverbial boy with his finger in the leak in the dike,” Ring said. “You just keep plugging away because kids do hear us. Kids do quit. Kids do get better. And if that kid is my kid, that’s a big victory.”

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