JUULing: An epidemic

Mya Studyvin

The teacher turns her head. The student quickly looks around the room — no one is paying attention.

He flips his hood over his head, parts his lips, brings the JUUL to his mouth.

He sucks in — long enough for the heating mechanism to burn the juice inside the flavored cartridge. When he finishes the hit, he quickly conceals the flash drive-like device and blows out a small cloud of smoke that clears before the teacher can turn back around.

All in about five seconds.

“It wasn’t the nicotine, it was more just the sensation of keeping me calm,” said a senior boy, who requested anonymity. “I didn’t get addicted to nicotine, because I quit, but I just needed something to keep my anxiety low. I wouldn’t say the nicotine really affected me other than calming my nerves.”

The JUUL is a form of an e-cigarette. It holds the JUUL pod — a cartridge filled with an e-liquid that comes in flavors such as mint, fruit and creme, which are more appealing to younger audiences than regular tobacco or menthol flavoring.

The small size and quickly dissipating vapor cloud allows the user to get a quick buzz while evading detection.

Although their intended use is to help people quit smoking, over the last year, JUUL usage among teens has spiked and is now considered a national epidemic by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We didn’t predict what I now believe is an epidemic of e-cigarette use among teenagers,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in a statement. “Today we can see that this epidemic of addiction was emerging when we first announced our plan (a series of actions to stop youth use of tobacco products) last summer. Hindsight, and the data now available to us, reveal these trends, and the impact is clearly apparent to the FDA.”

Derby High has not been spared.

During the first semester, there were 38 tobacco violations — only two involved actual cigarettes.

“All AVCTL member schools have had problems with it,” principal Tim Hamblin said of the league Derby is a member of. “They were actually kind of the catalysts for us changing our consequences. We were pretty light compared to some of the others.”

Derby increased its discipline this year.

“The consequences for the JUUL possession have been changed from a normal tobacco violation (to three days out-of-school suspension), and honestly, educating kids, parents — being ever vigilant and monitoring,” Hamblin said. “And then just more diligence — asking teachers to be. And, students, if you see something, say something.”

A key factor in eliminating the use of JUULs among teens is attacking the root cause, which can be a number of things.

“Some of it is just self-medicating,” counselor Daniel Harrison said. “Some of it is just to do something to rebel — which is a natural psychological development stage. Some of it is just because their friends are followers and their friends do it and they think it’s a cool thing, and I personally haven’t seen how it can be cool yet.

“People say, ‘well it relaxes me.’ Well, there are alternatives. Whether it’s exercise, walking, singing, listening to music, meditating, praying, stress balls… there are all kinds of things you can do to relax and reduce your stress… there are healthier options that they can pursue.”

Students, as a majority, have said they JUUL for one of two reasons — boredom or to not do something else.

“I started JUUL-ing to de-stress, that way I didn’t do anything else stupid,” the anonymous senior said. “Instead of taking my anger out on other people, I smoked away the stress.”

A junior boy, who requested anonymity, added” “I just do it because I’m bored, but, yes, (I get cravings).”

Once students start JUULing, it quickly becomes hard to stop.

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that can have you hooked within a few weeks, or even as little as several days, according to a study conducted by Dr. Joseph DiFranza at the University of Massachusetts.

“I JUUL very often. I go through a pack in a week and a half,” one anonymous junior boy said.

The compelling need for nicotine increases the more you subject yourself to it.

“(I go through) a pack of pods in three days,” said a junior girl, who requested anonymity.

Students who don’t JUUL have voiced their opinions on it, as well as done their job by reporting fellow students who do.

“It actually happens quite a bit, so I think that there are good kids that are sick of it and don’t want to see it,” assistant principal Jeremy Swearingen said. “For the most part, when we get a kid reporting another kid, we usually find something.”

Another anonymous junior boy added: “I think it’s dumb and I feel like it is people following trends… I like being different than my friends and not following what everyone else does.”