As teen JUULing culture proliferates, administrators take steps to curb addictive habit

May 9, 2018 — by Elaine Toh and Ananya Vadlakonda

Editor’s note: Carter is a pseudonym to protect the source’s identity.

In 2015, PAX Labs, an e-cigarette company, released the JUUL — a small e-cigarette device shaped like a flashdrive with which users inhale and exhale the vapor produced. Since its release, the device has become a widespread phenomenon, even helping coin a new word: JUULing.

JUULs have also found their way into the school’s halls, with several students having been carrying them hidden away inside their backpacks, clothes or other school supplies. One result is that because students were JUULing in the gym foyer bathroom, it is now closed during certain times of the day.

Principal Paul Robinson said that while he is aware of some students JUULing on campus, he is unsure of about the magnitude of the issue here.

“One of the rites of passage for high school students is to push the edge of the envelope — to experiment and to try risky behaviors just because you’ve been told no all of your life not to do them,” Robinson said.

Though distributors market JUULs as being healthier alternatives to cigarettes, carcinogens such as formaldehyde, which is also in regular cigarettes, and diacetyl still fill the user’s lungs after inhaling the vapor, causing health issues to arise.

For instance, a condition called Obliterative Bronchiolitis, or Popcorn Lung, can develop after repeated JUULing, leading to compromised lung function and shortness of breath as a result of the scarred and inflamed bronchioles, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Additionally, a considerable amount of nicotine, a primary ingredient in cigarettes and severely addictive by nature, is found in each JUUL pod, a refillable cartridge that is inserted into the device.


Fighting the addiction

Carter, a student who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Falcon, admitted to getting “pretty hooked” after trying JUUling at a friend’s house last September, after which he bought his own device without telling his parents.

“For me, it was the small high,” he said. “Peer pressure is part of it too. [JUULs are] super potent, so it’s really easy to get addicted to it.”

Though JUULs were specifically intended to be used by those at least 21, the product appeals to teens because of the many different flavors it offers, such as créme bruleé, mango and mint. Additionally, the culture that glorifies JUULing through several social media posts of people blowing rings of smoke have incentivized people to start.

According to the National Youth Tobacco survey in 2016, over 2 million youth were e-cigarette users. A further breakdown of the statistics shows that 11.3 percent high school students and 4.6 percent middle school JUUL nationwide.

Carter said he and handful of others regularly make their way to boys’ bathrooms at the start of tutorial while hiding a JUUL in their pockets, so they can take several puffs from their devices to blow clouds of vapor into the hoods of their sweatshirts.

Carter, like many of his friends, purchased the product not long after its release. As a result, he was able to buy a JUUL online directly from the official JUUL website, which was created by PAX Labs, because no strict age verification process had been implemented. Now, sellers either carry out a public records search or ask for an ID to ensure that only those who are at least 21 are able to buy a device.

Soon after purchase, Carter started JUULing at least one pod a day, which equals close to 200 cigarette puffs of nicotine or a pack of cigarettes per day.

After about five months of frequent JUULing, however, Carter said the rapidly increasing expenses prompted his decision to try to quit the addictive habit. According to The Boston Globe, for children trying to secretly buy their own JUUL starter kits on black markets, the starting price is around $80, considerably more than the usual retail price of $50. And with each JUUL pod retailing at $15.99, the expenses can pile up.

In addition to the costs, Carter also decided to try to stop JUULing because he was seeing its health effects. He said he started coughing often and could not run as well in school sports.

But even with the determination to quit, Carter said he has relapsed around five times. Even now, Carter admits to JUULing recently after quitting for nearly a month.


The awareness campaign begins

After more and more students went to the administration with concerns about JUULing in recent months, the school has been looking into ways to better educate both students and parents in hopes of deterring vaping.

On March 27, a parent information night was held by the School Resource Officer Russell Davis and assistant principal Brian Thompson to start a conversation about the vaping and JUULing culture at the school. Since this issue has only recently been brought to the administration’s attention, they used this gathering as a means to not only provide information about the issue but also to gain as much knowledge about vaping and JUULing from the parents as they could.

Along with this meeting, the district is assembling a committee made up of parents, teachers and students to address the issue in hopes to inform and stop students from JUULing.

“In all honesty we really want to work with our students, whether that’s student leadership or even working with the newspaper, to come up with something we can do so that people really know the truth about the dangers of JUULing,” Robinson said.

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