UPDATE: Juul in the Skuul

The Food and Drug Administrations recently released a significant series of new measures aimed at cracking down on the use of Juul and other e-cigs by minors, newly described as an “epidemic”. Here’s what you need to know about the recent movement following high schools across the country. Acting principal Maude Lamont, Health Teacher Josh Martin and first-hand juulers weigh in. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, names of juulers have been replaced with gender neutral names.

Juul started as a brand of e-cigarettes created for people unhappy with the social and health impacts they faced from smoking cigarettes. Now, however, it’s become such a social phenomenon in younger generations, that it’s become a verb. According to a survey by the CDC, over 3 million teens, 20% of all high schoolers, use e-cigs in their daily life. Wilson is no exception.

From the perspective of one anonymous self-proclaimed Juuler, who we’ll call Logan, juuling first became popular the summer of 2017, before the school year started. They first used a Juul at a party and began to notice it more and more at their social gatherings. 

Another student, Jordan, also started because of friends. “It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught, which is really funny, but like, I guess my friends were doing it, so I was like, oh okay,” Jordan said. “I feel like it’s not as much peer pressure, but it’s about exploration.”

Although they’ve had one friend get a referral after getting caught by a teacher, the majority of juuling goes undetected. In fact, one student, Alex, admitted to using their Juul in classes. “Some teachers have seen me juuling and not said anything,” Alex said. “I think they just want to expect the best in you, and they don’t want to go through the whole ordeal of like taking you down to the principal’s office or having them search your bag.” 

Even if students are caught, the Juuls are hard for teachers or supervisors to pinpoint if students hide them in their shoes, bras or underwear, which they can do discretely because the device is so small.

The Juul itself looks like a pen and is very easy to conceal. According to Logan, users can fill the Juul with pods of nicotine, or just water, and flavors. Juul’s website offers a variety, including choices like mango or creme brulee. They even offer special edition flavors such as cucumber, menthol, or Virginia tobacco, and encourage customers to try as many flavors as possible. 

The flavoring of their product, however, has not only encouraged old smokers to switch their addiction but minors to pick up the habit themselves. Years ago, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes and tobacco products because they’re so appealing to kids, but they haven’t done the same with e-cigs, and delayed key provisions for another four years as of 2016, allowing e-cigs to remain unregulated until 2020. 

However, the purchasing of e-cigs has gotten harder for teenagers. According to Alex, as of January 2018 a new state law has prohibited the selling of all e-cigs to minors, including juuls. Now, teens are either forced to drive up to Washington or use fake IDs, which has lead to a partial decline in usage from the beginning of the year. In fact, many users have since quit or destroyed their Juuls, especially at other schools. “Wilson’s behind all the trends,” Alex said. 

Even though they aren’t as trendy and are much harder to buy, many Trojans still prefer Juuls. “I have a Suorin, and I just don’t like the flavor,” Jordan said. “I like juuls more, because they’re like so small.”

According to those interviewed, many Juulers also typically partake in other illicit substances, such as alcohol. But in Logan’s opinion, the rise in juuling has lead to a decline in these practices, particularly in marijuana usage.

“I think weed is probably better health wise,” Jordan said. “I know that nicotine and the glycerin in the Juuls like damages your lungs, where I feel like weed doesn’t damage your lungs, it’s just the fact that smoke’s going in. There’s like a lot of positive effects with weed too.” Despite this, Jordan still finds juuling much more appealing because of its effects.

The effects of juuling are almost instantaneous. Sources describe it as feeling light-headed, unfocused, and almost limp, with a crazy head rush. But you’re still aware of everything, and still fully functional, unlike being high which can leave you stoned for hours. This allows people to take a quick hit and feel a short buzz, instead of being incapacitated an entire school period or longer. 

Administration and acting principal Maude Lamont, however, are not as oblivious as you might think. Many of them, including Lamont, first found out about “juuling” in an email chain last year. It was started by other teachers, discussing a new device that looked like flash drives and the growing concern that it could be discreetly used on school property, or even in classrooms. 

As far as administrative response to Juuling, Lamont insists that PPS schools treat Juuling the same as cigarettes or other prohibited items. It starts with a series of interventions, such as contacting parents and confiscating the item. However, if the student gets caught again, consequences become progressively more severe, especially for student athletes. Lamont’s main concern is the educational aspect. “It’s not just a school problem. Any attempts to address [juuling] must be comprehensive in nature.” 

Lamont believes that e-cigs may have started as a safe alternative to smoking, but are problematic in terms of their appeal to minors. According to her, many students have reported a lack of awareness about the dangers of juuling, or what they were actually inhaling. A study from the Truth Initiative revealed that 63% of Juul users, ages 15-24, did not know the product always contained nicotine. 

“The problem is that kids thought it was safe and harmless, when it’s not,” Lamont said. Lamont references the labeling of many vape products, which she claims is purposefully ambiguous and minimized in packaging. “I feel by creating a product that looks like a sleek piece of technology, they were not being honest, they were appealing to a millenial level.”

The FDA agrees. In April of 2018, the company Juul was forced to turn over all documents regarding their marketing strategies and researched health effects to see if minors were being targeted as customers. Despite many of the company’s modifications to discourage teen use, such as removing models from their Instagram page, requiring customers to be 21 years or over on their site, and devoting $30 million to ending teen use, the FDA continued in its “Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan.” 

In a statement revealing the new initiative, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb discussed e-cigarette use, which saw a growth of  40% in 2017 alone. Giving Juul and four other similar e-cigarette brands 60 days to demonstrate they can keep company products out of underage hands, Gottlieb introduced further restrictions that may soon force a reevaluation of the company product entirely. 

In the largest coordinated prevention effort of the FDA’s history, over 1,300 warning letters were issued to retailers that illegally sold e-cigs to minors, such as Walgreens, 7-Elevens, and Shell gas stations, and has already fined over 131 establishments up to $11,000. If swift action is not taken to prevent teenage use, the FDA threatens to remove products from the market entirely.

Wilson health teacher, Joshua Martin, agrees that this needs to be dealt with. From what he’s heard from other students and teachers, he is aware juuling is a problem, although he’s had no first hand experiences in his own classroom. While he recognizes that the rise of e-cigs have been a problem for some students, he remembers the start of his career at Wilson, less than 20 years ago, when there were dozens of kids smoking cigarettes every lunch or passing period. 

E-cigs have replaced that practice for some, but compared to real cigarettes, Martin believes juuling isn’t as big as a problem. Whether or not it’s safer, he’s simply relieved that the masses have turned from cigarettes. The biggest commonality, however, is the nicotine in both.

Nicotine is a stimulant, and works by speeding up processes of the brain and body, which is responsible for the head rush most users feel. It also increases alertness and can be an appetite suppressant. Any time a stimulant is overused, the user can feel negative effects – think about coffee. When you drink too much, you start feeling much more restless and irritable. Your body can even shake with jitters. While speeding up the heart isn’t a great danger to most young people, as you get older, it can lead to some painful repercussions.

According to Martin, the biggest danger of nicotine stems from its addictive properties, which can lead to lifelong struggles. To satisfy the cravings of cigarette smokers trying to quit, the makers of Juul used extremely high amounts of nicotine in their pods, and most users can easily smoke through two a week.  A single Juul pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. At around $16 for a set of four pods, both Jordan and Alex agree that they’ve spent over $100 this past school year fulfilling their cravings. 

In terms of level of addictiveness, nicotine is in the same category as heroin and cocaine. 

“All my friends told me that it was just the best head rush,” Alex said. “So I was like, well, I guess I’ll try it once. And then I just decided well, I’ll get it, I’ll have it for a month or so, but then I’ll stop before lacrosse season starts.” Now, Alex can’t stop. They’ve destroyed their juul to the point of no return, but now they simply use their friends and treat it like a social activity.

According to the CDC, nicotine can harm adolescent brains, which develop until age 25, and damage parts regarding attention, mood, learning, and impulse control. Martin also stresses behavioral development, which he claims changes drastically.

“There’s freedom that comes with living your life without having to look over your shoulder all the time,” Martin said. When teenagers are forced to sneak around, it’s easy to get caught up in that kind of life. “Not getting caught doing something becomes more important than just doing the right thing.” And the cycle becomes increasingly difficult to break.

As a user, Jordan has their own warning.

“I don’t think you should get one, and I think you should be a healthy person because I would say if you do it for like over six months, then you definitely will be addicted for the rest of your life,” Jordan said. The biggest long-term effects, they say, are the unshakeable cravings.

Nicotine is extremely hard to stop using, so in order to satisfy the need, most smokers are willing to ingest all the other chemicals and substances found in cigarettes into their lungs. This leads many users to think e-cigs are safe alternatives to smoking. 

As the makers of Juul disclose, instead of lighting substances on fire, Juuls heat up vapors. Therefore, users aren’t exposed to the same tar, smoke, and other chemicals from cigarettes. But new research shows e-cigs might be just as dangerous. Heating coils can leech off heavy metals into the vapors you’re inhaling, getting metals like copper into your lungs. And while many toxins are avoided, the inhaling of any product can lead to later effects, such as popcorn lung, which can cause extreme breathing difficulties.

The important thing to remember is that the long-term effects of juuling still aren’t known. We are the guinea pig generation, experiencing all the potential problems or benefits before we can predict them.

Considering all we don’t know, Lamont wants students to know Juuling might not be the safest new trend to try out. “You don’t have to do anything in order to have friends and fit in at Wilson. Just being you is enough.” 

She believes the school has so many extracurricular activities to offer that there are better ways to spend personal time. She has already reached out to the school social worker to integrate e-cig prevention into daily life at Wilson. 

Starting with informational posters about the effects of vaping, Lamont also plans on increasing adult traffic in bathrooms, particularly for females. She believes pop-ins, such as exchanging the new tampon boxes, would allow staff to become more of a presence in the restrooms and discourage use. Lamont would also love to see a student lead campaign take over and describes support groups for those interested in quitting and more education in health classes. Finally, she encourages everyone to report any use of prohibited products, and claims many people do.

Lamont also encourages current users to seek support from the staff. According to her, self-disclosure is not a violation of the drug and alcohol policy. “If they need help with anything, and they come to us, they’re not in trouble,” she said. She wishes more students would see administration as resources and insists that the school isn’t meant to be a prison. “We’re here to help.”

It’s hard to say whether the administration’s efforts will have any impact on Wilson students, or if the FDA’s crackdown will take e-cigs off the market entirely. But as of now, with company sales increasing by 600% in 2017 alone, Juul’s supremacy shows no sign of stopping.

By Mira Coles

 

Juul Addendum

Acting principal Maude Lamont recently informed the Trojan Horse that a new policy is about to take place at Wilson High in regards to all e-cigs, including Juul. As administrators have had difficulty determining the liquids being vaped by teens who have been caught, they are now following an “assume the worst¨ mentality. Therefore, Juuls and other E-cigs will be considered a Level A Drug and Alcohol substance, with much harsher consequences for their use.

These new PPS restrictions are to be eventually implemented throughout the district, but have already been in effect at Lincoln High School, the only one to officially enact the policy as of October. This elicited swift media reactions, criticizing PPS for treating teen vaping as only a Lincoln issue, when in reality that is not the case. However, since the policy’s implementation, Lincoln has reported decreased use of e-cigs by teenagers. This has prompted other PPS schools to follow suit on jump-starting the policy’s initiation, including Wilson. Now, students caught juuling will face new punishments they may not even be aware existed. While formal communication has not been made between administration and the student body in regards to the issue, Lamont warns that all future cases are to be treated as a Level A offense, with only one warning before full consequences form. And once the policy is officially issued, that warning will cease to exist. Instead, students caught using e-cigs will attend six-hour insight classes with parents and guardians, will be unable to attend or participate in school events for 28 days before their hearing, and may even be suspended or required to complete community service upon the administrator’s discretion. Furthermore, if student progress towards completion of Level A punishments within four weeks of the hearing date is deemed unsatisfactory, they will face expulsion.

By Mira Coles