Eighteen-year-old Eliza Wisinski was giving a presentation in front of her class when something caught her attention.
"There was someone exhaling a cloud of smoke in class," Wisinski, a Darien High School senior, said.
A student was smoking an electronic cigarette.
"E-bugs," as students call them, are increasingly appearing at the high school -- something administrators are trying to end.
"We're concerned -- as is everyone -- with the use of the electronic cigarettes," DHS Principal Ellen Dunn said. "We want to be responsible in keeping our students safe and educate them."
Policy changes are expected to be drafted during the summer break and implemented at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Wisinski said she feels e-cigarettes are "everywhere" in the school, adding that she has seen students smoking them in the bathroom, during free periods and in class.
"We don't want them to be used in the building, that's for sure," Dunn said.
Though the student handbook does not reference electronic cigarettes, Dunn said school staff members are treating them as they would tobacco products.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs are not regulated by the federal or state governments, meaning anyone can legally purchase the product.
The state House of Representatives Tuesday night voted in favor of a bill that prevents minors from purchasing an "electronic nicotine delivery system" and other vapor products. The state Senate approved the bill on April 24. If enacted, Connecticut would join 27 states with a similar law on the books.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its own preliminary regulations, which would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.
E-cigs, which were first introduced in China in 2004, heat a nicotine liquid to create a vapor that's similar to smoke. The products are marketed as a harmless way to quit smoking traditional cigarettes while still receiving nicotine. They come in a variety of flavors, including bubble gum, gummy bears, cherry and cola.
The odorless vapor is problematic in catching students in the act of "vaping," though.
"We really rely on staff members catching the kids doing it," said Officer James Palmieri, DHS' school resource officer. As the SRO, Palmieri does not get involved in a police capacity when students are caught with the e-cigarettes.
"They don't make me uncomfortable," Billeter said. "I just don't get the point of it."
At DHS, e-cigarettes are confiscated, which has increased significantly during the last school year, Dunn said. Students who are found with e-cigarettes, whether the liquid contains nicotine or not, are penalized -- usually with a detention -- as if they were found with any other tobacco product.
Dunn said it's the sense of the school staff that students are using e-cigarettes more than traditional ones, which seems to be a trend across the country.
According to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, the use of e-cigarettes among all students increased from 3.1 percent to 6.8 percent, or an estimated 1.8 million more.
The study also found that 76.3 percent of middle- and high-school students who used e-cigarettes within the past 30 days also smoked conventional cigarettes.
Sandy Gomez, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Life Solution Center of Darien and an addiction fellow at the Yale University School of Medicine, said e-cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular with teenagers.
There is not much data available to discourage the use of the e-cigarettes, Gomez said, and some studies show that there actually is an increased risk for teenagers to get into smoking traditional cigarettes after using the electronic ones.
"Not only are they more likely to get into cigarette smoking, they are also more likely to smoke more heavily," Gomez said.
It's widely known that there are adverse health risks when someone smokes a cigarette, but because there have been few sound studies on e-cigarettes, little is known about how they may affect the inhaler.
"We don't really know if (the vapor) is more damaging than the smoke from the tobacco," Gomez said. "With a cigarette, all those chemicals are inhaled and there is 50 years of literature supporting that (cigarettes) are very, very dangerous. But that took 50 years of research to be conclusive.
"We don't know necessarily what or if there is any damage from these (e-cigarette) chemicals."
However, the CDC has data to show that e-cigarettes can negatively impact the smokers. E-cigarette exposure calls to poison centers per month increased from one in September 2010 to 215 in February 2014, according to the CDC. More than half -- 51.1 percent -- of the calls to poison centers due to e-cigarettes involved young children under 5, and about 42 percent involved people 20 and older.
In 2011, according to the CDC, 6.9 percent of all high-school students reported trying e-cigarettes.
Gomez said teenagers opt to try them because they are "novel."
"Young people want to try everything that's new," Gomez said.
When teenagers are developing their own life experiences, Gomez said, they are more willing to experiment with what's considered cool, as opposed to adults who may not be as willing or eager and are less influenced by peers.
"Kids know it's bad," Palmieri said. "They know they shouldn't be doing it. That's why they hide it."
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