Chapter 1: Students fight with peer pressure and addiction
It was about halfway through last school year when John Williams* first saw Juul use skyrocket. His use of the USB-shaped electronic cigarette was social at first.
“It was one of those things that one of my friends had. I just wanted to try it at first,” Williams said. “After a while, I decided to get myself one.”
For Williams, it wasn’t long before he was fully addicted. He has since quit and considers Juuling dangerous.
“After a while, I realized it was really hurting my ability to participate in athletics, so I had to stop,” Williams said. “I felt bad because I knew it was hurting my body and it wasn’t good for me. Even if it did feel good at the time, always after I’d feel terrible. It wasn’t worth it.”
Similarly to Williams, Robert Davis* first used a Juul in a social setting.
“[I started Juuling] because it’s a way to be cool,” Davis said. “I only Juul if my friends are around… I don’t really enjoy it for the feeling, I just like the social aspect.”
Unlike Williams, Davis would not consider himself addicted. However, nicotine has still brought him unpleasant experiences.
“Once I was trying to ghost, which is a trick you can do, and I nic-ed out, which means you feel really sick and nauseous to the head,” Davis said. “It’s not a permanent thing, but it made me stop for a couple days because it grossed me out.”
When it comes to quitting for good though, Davis is a little less sure.
“I’m probably going to quit after college. As an adult, I don’t need to do that kind of stuff,” Davis said. “Again, it’s a social thing for me, so if it ever phases out, I’m not going to be Juuling.”
Even though Davis feels this way, nicotine has consistently been ranked among one of the most addictive drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 90% of nicotine addicts first tried smoking by age 18.
In the past few years, Juul and other e-cigarette use among high school students has continued an upward trend. According to CDC data collected in 2017, 11.7% of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, up from just 1.5% in 2011.
Based on Newsstreak survey data, about 15% of the school had tried an e-cigarette. This percentage was significantly higher for juniors and seniors than freshman and sophomores. Males were also more likely to have used an e-cigarette than females. Juul was by far the most commonly used e-cigarette at HHS.
Juul has been criticized by the Food and Drug Administration for failing to keep products away from minors and is investigating its marketing practices.
Davis sees Juul’s rise as connected to social status.
“[It took off] because it was the cool kids that did it,” Davis said. “I know it’s really cliché, but the most popular kids often did it.”
Tied to that, Davis thinks that it also has to do with the platitude of teenage rebellion.
“I don’t really base my self-identity off disrespecting authority, but I know some kids get a rush by doing it in places where they shouldn’t be,” Davis said.
Williams also pointed out that a lot of money can be made selling Juul products within the school, something he did himself. Based on the Newsstreak survey, most e-cigarette users at HHS bought products from other students.
Juul user James Johnson* regrets starting to Juul because of its financial burden. A Juul starter kit is $50. Each pod, equivalent in nicotine content to a pack of cigarettes, retails for $4.
“I wouldn’t [start Juuling] if I had the choice just because of economics,” Johnson said. “Other than that I don’t really care about all the statistics and the Daily Mail ads you see on Snapchat.”
Although e-cigarettes expose users to less harmful chemicals than traditional cigarettes, nicotine is still dangerous. The CDC reports that nicotine can harm parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control. Another issue is e-cigarette users hooked on nicotine transferring to traditional cigarettes, which contain hundreds of additional harmful chemicals.
However, Davis doesn’t see this as an issue for himself.
“Personally, I’m never going to smoke a cigarette, just because of the millions and millions of data points that prove there’s not just a correlation but a strong causation between cigarettes and lung cancer,” Davis said. “In the generation before us, people didn’t really know the negative effects of smoking. If Juuling turns out to cause health [problems], it could be similar. The difference is [that] we’re a lot more advanced now when it comes to science.”
In Davis’s opinion, Juuling may even act as a form of catharsis.
“If you Juul, I think there are a lot worse things you could be doing,” Davis said. “I don’t feel the inclination to do strong drugs because I Juul.”
However, this assumption is probably wrong. According to the CDC, nicotine use in adolescence may actually increase the risk for future addiction to other drugs.
For Davis as well as Johnson, the thing that will make them most likely to quit is not the current scientific evidence but simple peer pressure.
“Once the Juul phase stops, I’ll quit,” Johnson said.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect the privacy of this individual.
Chapter 2: Administration responds to rise in Juul use
Teenage use of nicotine vapes has exploded in the course of a short year, and it’s almost entirely attributable to one device: the Juul. The sleek design and celebrity endorsement has extended the popularity of the device far beyond its intended audience of legal consumers into the bathrooms of the high school.
This issue has not gone unnoticed by administration. There have already been five instances of referrals being given for Juul use, or Juuling, this year alone, but principal Cynthia Prieto believes the problem is much more prevalent than the number of referrals reflect.
“It seems to go in waves. It’s probably happening more than we’re able to catch but it’s just too easy to conceal. You can take a couple puffs and move on and nobody will know anything,” Prieto said.
Referrals for Juuling have been given in bathrooms, locker rooms, the cafeteria and even the library. To combat Juuling in the bathrooms, Prieto has had to alert staff to be on the lookout, a concept which she is not entirely comfortable with.
“It’s difficult to bust people because it’s mostly happening in bathrooms and we don’t want to invade students’ privacy. I have told staff to be visible and aware. If they need to wash their hands, they can go into the restroom to wash their hands. We just don’t want anyone to feel so uncomfortable that they can’t go into the bathroom without worrying about someone popping in. We just have to be careful that we’re balancing between the two well,” Prieto said.
Despite the skyrocketing use of Juuls defying FDA and NIH expectancies, the popularity of the Juul comes as no surprise to Prieto.
“I think that every time there’s something new, there’s a crest in the mystique and it gets overused. As far as the school is concerned, we’re still nicotine free. That’s just a federal law. As far as the administration is concerned, it’s a health issue,” Prieto said.
Juul pods contain a nicotine level equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. Nicotine has been linked to problems with teenage brain development, and the vape itself isn’t regulated and can contain lung-damaging chemicals.
The possibility of students developing an addiction is alarmingly high for Prieto, but her main concern is the customizability of what students can vape.
“I think Juul’s are more of a concern for me because of what you can do with them. Much like some of the E-Cigs, you can put in substances that are highly dangerous. Drugs can be put in them and it’s very hard to trace. There’s just no quality control and for me, it’s just scary,” Prieto said.
Prieto is hoping to work with the SCA to combat the Juul epidemic student-to-student. Vaping has also been incorporated into Health classes and a program has been created for students caught Juuling or using other substances in school.
The program, Second Chances, implements a curriculum that hopes to educate students on the dangers of using substances including nicotine. However, Prieto is still concerned that their efforts aren’t enough.
“I’m hoping that its popularity is on the downslide, but we don’t have that empirical data. My impression is that it’s the younger kids that are using [Juuls] more, and so our concern is what implications that might have for later in life with addictions and other issues,” Prieto said.
The severity of the problem is apparent to Prieto in the level of daringness of some of the students using Juuls.
“We’ve caught people Juuling in the middle of the library,” Prieto said. “There’s not even an effort to hide it because people believe that the smoke dissipates fast enough or that people won’t notice. That level of boldness is scary for us.”