We Real Cool. We Juul. At School.
By Tori Carr '20 and Delaney Moore '20
Controversial 2018/2019 Issue
What does the daily routine of an SSSAS student consist of? Well, that depends on who you ask. Many students, for example, would describe their days as pretty mundane. Those students would most likely talk about their classes, lunch breaks, or club meetings, but did you know that a good portion of the school would add Juuling to their daily list of school activities?
According to a Junior who wished to be quoted anonymously, “roughly, a good half of the school Juuls regularly.” When asked if they believed that Juuling was a problem, they responded, “I don’t necessarily believe so because people should be able to put what they want in their bodies. People are addicted, but they probably shouldn’t be doing it in school.”
According to a September 2018 news release from the FDA, schools across the nation have fallen victim to the “Juuling Epidemic,” which is causing countless high school students to struggle with addiction, and St. Stephen's and St. Agnes is no different.
Juul, a brand of e-cigarettes that came out only last year, is a new craze across high schools and middle schools in America. The product is marketed as “a smoking alternative for adults.” Due to the sleek, easy-to-hide design along with the different flavored pods, Juuls appear desirable to many teenagers. Many adults and teachers blame Juul for their design that seems to target teenagers to become addicted; however, Juul claims that the purpose of the design is so smokers are not reminded of a cigarette when they use it.
Even though the long-term health effects of Juuling are not known, popcorn lung is a known short term effect. It is described as a form of bronchitis that inflames the small airways in your lungs which causes shortness of breath and coughing, according to WebMD. There are many more side effects to this product, such as mouth irritation, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola.
Brenda Conlan, our school’s drug specialist, explained in her article, “JUUL - Nicotine Makes a Worrisome Comeback,” that the actual smoke from Juuls contain “propylene glycol, heavy metals, ultra fine particles, and other poisonous gases infused with a heavy dose of nicotine” since pods are unregulated. She continued to explain that nicotine, the most concerning substance, is highly addictive and can lead many people to smoke cigarettes; 30% of teenagers who vape begin smoking actual cigarettes in the next six months.
Even if Juulers never smoke an actual cigarette; one Juul pod has the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes, according to Truth Initiative. According to the New York Times, this substance “may disrupt the formation of circuits in the brain that control attention and learning.”
If a teenager smokes about one pod a week, that teenager would have consumed the equivalent of around 100 cigarettes in 5 weeks.
By that point, that person is considered an established smoker. According to an article published by the Washington Post, teenagers who use e-cigarettes are ingesting many of the same carcinogens found in regular cigarettes.
Financial costs and illegality are also issues. Each Juul device costs $34.99 from the company itself and pods come in packs of four or two which cost $15.99 and $9.99. In the state of Virginia, it is illegal for any minor to
purchase or possess e-cigarettes.
However, according to the FDA,
e-cigarette usage has risen 78% in high schools and 48% in middle schools since last year.
When investigating Juuling in our community, Mr. Ratliffe, the head of security, was kind enough to answer our questions. When asked about his experience with Juuling on campus, he responded, “we have become aware that there have been some reported incidents that have occured on campus, but we’ve been fortunate enough that we think we’ve let the student body know that
[Juuling] is not accepted here, so it's not a major problem as far as we know.” He also disclosed that the security team often will check “hot spots,” places where Juuling appears more prevalent, such as the parking lot during lunch and after school.
Mr. Mallett, the director of the Upper School, explained that he has noticed “hotspots” in bathrooms, locker rooms, and backs of buses. He encourages an increase of teacher and adult presence in these somewhat private student spaces. Besides his emphasis on the health effects, he also is concerned that “vaping culture” in the bathrooms may make other students uncomfortable.
Our school’s “hot spots” definitely differ from many public schools. When asked about Juuling in public school, a non-Juuling Junior at Monroe Woodbury High school in New York responded, “Everyone Juuls, it's become an addiction. People Juul in the bathrooms so often that they have been nicknamed ‘vape lounges’.” The student also disclosed that, “Juuling happens in the back of classes, the library, on the buses, the cafeteria; essentially everywhere where a teacher isn’t.”
One thing that public and private schools have in common is that Juuling has become a major trend that is leading to a premature obsession with nicotine-based products in young people. When an SSSAS Junior was asked why they Juul, they responded “[initially it was] for the buzz, and now I’m addicted.” This Junior is no different from thousands of American high schoolers who have all picked up the discreet vaping tool and taken a hit.
According to a survey taken by 136 of SSSAS students, only 18.4% of students Juul. 7.4% claim to Juul in school and 7.4% report that they Juul every day. 75.7% of our community reported that they have never Juuled before.
One of the scariest aspects of teenage Juuling is that teenagers either don’t know the health effects, they do and ignore them, or they do know the health effects and choose to Juul in moderation. When asked about the health effects of Juuling, a senior student revealed that they are aware that Juuling leads to “popcorn lungs, significant brain damage, addiction and impaired cognitive function,” which is most likely why this student admitted that they have only Juuled a couple of times.
Even though this problem seems urgent and in need of an automatic solution, there is very little that our school administration is able to do. Mr. Mallett, explains how he initially discovered this issue. He recalls, “I became aware of what Juuling was last fall when the athletic directors brought it to my attention that students were vaping in locker rooms and we found some Juul devices and pods...in the CPAC under the seats, and we found some in the trash in the locker rooms.” He understands that Juuling and other forms of vaping have taken off to basically replace cigarettes. He thinks that they have risen in popularity and said, “It’s more discreet. There’s no flame. There’s no matches or lighter involved. You don’t have the odor...There’s a real signature [scent] with smoking opposed to with vaping.”
He also touches on its popularity because of its accessibility to students, which is even reaching the middle schoolers. He believes this is due to its ability to be ordered online and the surplus of vape shops that often don’t card. He and the administration have attempted to confront the issue by giving a presentation to both students and faculty about what vaping is and all of its effects. The school has revised its student handbook to include that the possession or use of vape devices, including those that do not contain tobacco, are not allowed. He additionally wants to educate parents about this issue by having Brenda Conlan include more about vaping and Juuling in her drug use presentation this January.
Problems with smoking and drugs have been prevalent in all high schools for decades, and there are other problems besides just Juuling, such as illegal alcohol use. The legal age to drink alcohol has been raised since the 1980s, but even so, it is a bigger problem than vaping. According to Brenda Conlan, it is highly likely that there will always tend to be around 20-30% of students in schools who commit to these risky behaviors. She explains that at our school, “it isn’t a massive group of kids, they just have a lot of power and cache in the
community.” Many assume that public schools have more issues with drug usage, but there is no major difference between public and private schools, according to Conlan.
One major problematic factor that is facing Juulers is that Juuling could lead to other forms of drug use. Out of our seven student interviews with Juniors and Seniors at SSSAS, all admitted to either smoking or experimenting with weed. One out of those interviewees admitted to smoking cigarettes. We interviewed three students about Juuling and another four solely about smoking weed. When asked if Juuling affects athletic performance two out of the three interviewees said it did not, but one admitted that Juuling did result in shortness of breath.
After collecting data from our all school survey, we found out that almost half of our students admit to knowing someone who struggles with some form of drug addiction. Brenda Conlan says that
“adolescents believe [Juuling] is a way to be edgy without ending up in a casket...they have convinced themselves that they are in the shallow waters of a deep, dangerous drug ocean and they also believe they can stop anytime if it becomes a problem.
Young Juulers underestimate the power of nicotine addiction.”
We interviewed four upperclassmen about their experiences with marijuana. All four have experience with both smoking weed and vaping. Two said that they had tried Juuling before smoking, but the other two shared the opposite story. Three of the interviewees denied that there was a connection between smoking weed and Juuling, but one student explained that “trying one a lot led to the other,” and experimenting with weed has made them “less scared of substances.”
Another student stated that
“taking risks isn’t a big deal to me now... as long as it’s not hurting anyone it’s fine.”
Smoking weed is popular to the extent that our student interviewees admitted to using joints, blunts, bongs, pens, and even homemade water bottle pipes. The four students we interviewed estimate that as much as 45-60 percent of our school community smokes weed. In our survey sent out the the school, 30.2% admitted to smoking weed. Each student explained how often they smoke; the four varied between: once every two months, once or twice a week, every other day, and five days a week. One explains that they do the majority of their smoking at school.
One interviewee explained that smoking weed helps them cope with their anxiety and depression. They explain, “it started as a social thing, but then I started noticing that I wasn’t having anxiety attacks and I was less depressed.” A couple students even claimed that it helped improve their grades. However, smoking weed can lead to impaired ability to learn, remember, and think, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Additional effects include breathing issues, increased heart rate, and increased risk of unusual brain development in fetuses in pregnant women. The interviewees seemed much more concerned about their parents finding out than the health concerns or illegality of the drug.
Medical marijuana is gaining support in many states; however there is an apparent connection between drug use, suicide, and violence. Illegal substances can worsen mental disorders and diseases. According to Delphi Behavioral Health Group, the chance of suicide is six times more likely if someone suffers from a drug addiction.
Besides the health and mental risks of substances, there are many legal repercussions. Statistics from Gateway Foundation show that “alcohol and drugs are partly to blame in an estimated 80 percent of offenses leading to jail
time in the U.S.”
Juuling, whether we like it or not, is significant to a large part of our community. Brenda Conlan reflected that Juuling, or any new flashy drug, will interest kids our age. Students in high school are “easily enchanted and open to experiences - this is the crown and crucifixion of being young.”