Juuling in school: E-cigarette use prevalent among local youth

  • A student of Amherst High School displays a Juul. “I started and before I knew it, I got hooked. It happens so quick.” He did not want to use his name for fear of getting in trouble at his school. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Reid Stone, of Northampton, and Sophia Bradley, of Westfield, at Pinocchio Pizza Express, talk about Juuling among their peer groups. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Reid Stone, of Northampton, and Sophia Bradley, of Westfield, at Pinocchio Pizza Express, describe the clouds of smoke in the bathrooms at the high schools. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2018 12:17:56 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Over the last decade, middle and high school students have been smoking cigarettes less — rates have dropped significantly since 2011. The bad news is that a new vice is on the rise with young people: Juuling.

If you don’t know what that is, you’re not alone. Juul is a brand of e-cigarette that vaporizes a liquid containing nicotine. It looks more like a thumb drive than a cigarette, doesn’t create a lot of vapor and is more likely to smell fruity than smoky, making it easy to conceal — even in a school. Juuling is also known as vaping.

“I know a lot of kids who Juul, almost half the kids I know,” said Bryden Ventola, a Northampton High School freshman who said he doesn’t Juul.

Max Shannon, a teenager from Amherst, estimates the number of high school-aged youth Juuling at around 50 percent. “I don’t know many people who don’t have a Juul,” he said. Shannon and his two friends, Northampton High School students Jestina Jones and Lucia Lomax, all say that people their age are addicted to Juuling, though none of them said they do it.

“I would say it’s an epidemic,” Shannon added.

The FDA agrees with him. This fall, the agency said that teenage electronic cigarette use has reached “an epidemic proportion.”

Statistics from a bi-annual survey of thousands of students were discussed Friday at a presentation mostly to educators in area schools, as part of a vaping prevention workshop in Northampton sponsored by the Collaborative for Educational Services and the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth. The survey found that 45 percent of 952 participating 12th-graders in Hampshire County said they had tried an electronic cigarette at least once. Just over 21 percent said they had used it in the last 30 days.

“Almost all my friends have it or take hits of their friends’ ... Everyone’s doing it,” said Reid Stone, a junior from Northampton who attends LightHouse Holyoke. Sitting in Pinocchio Pizza Express in Northampton on Monday afternoon, Stone said he doesn’t do it regularly but he’s tried it a handful of times. “If my friend has it, I’ll take a hit,” he said.

Students interviewed from The MacDuffie School, Northampton High School, and LightHouse Holyoke said they have seen Juuling happen in school, and some said it happens in class. The e-cigarette is small and easy to conceal — it can be hidden in a shirt, students said, for example.

And many said school bathrooms are a hotspot.

“If you go into Northampton High School bathrooms, there’s just a cloud,” said Stone, who used to attend Northampton High School. “Everyone goes to the bathroom to Juul… The bathrooms aren’t really used for going to the bathroom anymore.”

Melinda Calianos, director of Hampshire Franklin Tobacco Free Partnership, said though while Juuls and other electronic cigarettes are discreet-looking, they still can be harmful. 

E-cigarette aerosol — what users breathe — can contain ultrafine particles, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, according to the CDC.

Many of the electronic cigarette pods — cartridges containing vaping fluid that go inside the e-cigarette — come in sweet flavors that mask the taste of nicotine and get young people hooked, Calianos said. One Juul pod has about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, she said.

Stone is drawn to flavors like mango and strawberry. “All the fruity flavors,” he said.

The potential health effects, Calianos said, are not sweet. “These little vanilla-milkshake-flavored liquids can do some long term damage,” she said.

But students don’t always realize that they are putting nicotine into their body, according to the survey of thousands of eighth, 10th- and 12th-grade Hampshire County students. About a quarter of 10th- and 12th-grade Hampshire County students who’ve used an electronic cigarette think there’s no nicotine in them. That’s unlikely, Warner said.

Some pods, Calianos said, say on the front they don’t have nicotine on them, and it’s only the fine print that discloses the nicotine it contains.

Calianos said the industry is taking a page out of the playbook from the tobacco industry and targeting young people. 

“Just like the tobacco industry, they’re making their products sweet, cheap and easy to get,” she said.

Shannon agreed that the industry targets young people. “In all their ads they have, it’s young people,” he said.

High school students also said it’s not hard to get.

“I have friends who have almost gone broke buying pods ... it keeps adding up,” said Jones.

“You can buy it on Amazon and stuff,” said Sasha Middleton, a freshman at The MacDuffie School who said she doesn’t Juul. 

Lomax said some people get it from older kids. “Pretty much anyone in high school has an older friend,” she said.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes in stores like gas stations.

And in July, the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey announced it is investigating Juul Labs, Inc., along with others who sell electronic cigarettes online, for their potential marketing and sale of products to minors. 

As of Dec. 31, 2018, Massachusetts tobacco sales, including electronic cigarettes, will be restricted to those over 21.

Still, it’s a surging issue. “Vaping is now outpacing all the other drugs in Franklin County,” said Kat Allen, coordinator of Communities That Care Coalition, at Friday’s workshop. A survey of nine Franklin County school districts found similar vaping rates to those in Hampshire County schools.

“It’s a big problem,” Allen said. But, she added, “It’s important that we know most kids aren’t vaping.”

At the local level, there are some ways communities can work on the problem. 

For example, as of July, 106 municipalities in Massachusetts passed policies that allow the sales of flavored tobacco products to adult-only stores, according to Calianos. And as of September, 93 municipalities in the state have stopped giving tobacco permits within 500 feet of a school. 

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com

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