• Vape pens, Juuls, pods and chargers are among the items used by teenagers to smoke. Many of the items are disguised to look like USB drives or ordinary chargers. While many of these are considered an alternative to smoking, there are still many health risks. — Standard-Radio Post/ McKenzie Moellering
  • Fredericksburg High School School Resource Officer Chris Ayala holds up some of the confiscated e-cigarettes, vape pens and Juuls from the last half of the 2017-2018 school year. Ayala predicts that number of confiscated items will grow during the next year. — Standard-Radio Post/McKenzie Moellering

Blowing smoke

Juuling, vaping trend has grown among juveniles; health effects not fully known, but school officials worry

Teenagers across America are turning to new “smoking hot” cigarette alternatives: the Juul and vaping.

A Juul is an e-cigarette that, according to a promotional site, is “clean” and users can experience “freedom from ash and odor and has no mess.”

Vaping is similar in that vaporized liquid is inhaled, but the amount of nicotine varies, compared to that of a cigarette.

Vaping went on the market in the mid-2000s. Recently, the e-cig trend grew with the introduction of the Juul in 2015. Like any substance containing nicotine, a person must be 18 or older to purchase one.

Today, this is not only an issue for teens across the United States, but in Fredericksburg.

Fredericksburg High School Resource Officer Chris Ayala and FHS assistant principal Chris Weirich estimate that around 30 percent of students at the school Juul or vape regularly or have tried it at least once. There isn’t one specific demographic using the devices either.

“It’s sad because we see kids that you would never think would be into this stuff, but yet they are offenders,” Weirich said.

“I think I could walk into a group of 10 and say at least two out of 10 have a vape. But again, it’s a kid you least expect,” Ayala said.

 

The facts

The e-cig alternative to cigarettes is marketed to target teens, with a sleek design much like a USB that plugs into a computer.

“I can take this device and plug it into my computer and charge it and no one is going to know if it’s a USB or a Juul,” Ayala said. “It’s not by accident — it is totally by design. These companies know what they are doing.”

While many believe that a Juul is safer or contains less nicotine, it’s quite the opposite.

According to the Juul website, one Juul pod contains the equivalent of 200 cigarette puffs or one package of cigarettes, which contains anywhere from 40-59 milligrams of nicotine.

A typical single cigarette contains between 8 and 12 milligrams.  

In addition to the high amount of nicotine, it also includes ingredients like glycerol, propylene glycol (a vaporization liquid), Benzoic acid (found in a tobacco plant) and traces of lead.

In addition, the amount of smoke produced is significantly less than a cigarette, Ayala said.

“I really feel like kids think this stuff is not dangerous,” he said. “They don’t think it’s going to harm them but I think the one thing we need to realize is that it’s becoming an epidemic.”

While a Juul just contains nicotine and is self-contained, substances such as marijuana or pills can be added to a vape system.

Tejas Smoke Depot owner Jodi Gould stated that she hasn’t heard of any major side effects from using a Juul or vape, other than it is a healthier option than smoking cigarettes.

“Just from interactions with my customers who have switched to using Juuls, they cough less, and their COPD is gone,” she said.  “This device is helping them smoke less while maintaining the habit.”

With regard to vapes, she has heard that they do contain unhealthy amounts of vegetable glycerin.

“We know smoking isn’t good but adults are going to make their own choices,” Gould said. “But I want to emphasize that these are really supposed to be just for adults.”

As of now, not a lot of research has been done on the short- or long-term effects of using e-cigarettes.

Ayala said that the most common effects are increased wheezing and other allergies.

 

Cash breakdown

Most Juul systems range between $25-$30 and pods range between $13-$16 for a package of four.

A starter pack on the Juul website costs around $50.

Flavors include Virginia tobacco, mint, crème and mango.

As of March 2018, Nielsen data reported that Juul made up more than half of all e-cigarette retail market sales.

Locally, Gould says that in the last two months, she has had to increase her inventory.

“In a week, I would say we sell a couple (Juul) devices and probably anywhere from 10 to 20 packages of pods,” she said. “This is something that I have really seen take off.”

 

‘Cool to Juul in school’

Because of the growing Juul trend, many students locally are taking the devices to school, Ayala said.

“Teachers aren’t going to pick up on these things unless you train them, so a lot of students are getting away with using them on school grounds,” he said.

In addition to the small size, and sleek design, these e-cigarettes give off little to no odor or smell like strawberries, mangoes or even mint.

Currently, the Fredericksburg Independent School District has a three-step discipline system that includes taking the device away, in-school suspension and on the third strike, getting local law enforcement officials involved.

“Right now, we can’t give them a citation while they are on school grounds, but legislation in Texas may change that,” he said.

Ayala does warn that if a student can’t go a whole day without bringing it to school, the student needs to reach out and find a solution.

Ayala says many parents are unaware of what the devices look like and what they do.

“Learn what to look for, research it online and figure out what this stuff is so you can be aware,” Ayala. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we have an end in sight.”

In an effort to change this, Ayala holds informational parent meetings to explain the devices and their health risks, but the meetings often see low attendance.

 

Surveying the masses

During the 2017-2018 school year, two students from FHS in Kim Zuberbueler’s journalism class did a survey of their peers.

Mason Meier and Bryce Pearrow talked to 11 students anonymously about Juuling and vaping habits.

Here are some of their findings.

When asked how often the student uses these devices, the responses included:

• “Basically, every day, probably every hour most of the time. It’s very constant.”

• “It’s usually just whenever I see a friend vaping, then I join. It’s kind of a social thing.”

 

Pearrow and Meier also found that while students are aware of the side effects, many think it’s less harmful then smoking cigarettes.

“It’s a lot better than smoking, but I think it’s probably going to be bad in the long run. Right now though, I don’t feel like it’s that bad.”

         

Some have even felt the effects when competing in athletics.

• “I noticed it when I’m in athletics. Before I was vaping, I was totally fine but since I started vaping, I notice I get tired more easily. One specific instance was that I was vaping before a game and when we started warming up, I was already the most out of breath I’ve ever been in my life.”

            

The survey ultimately showed that a significant number of students are participating in inhaling the substances as well as doing it regularly, including in bathrooms and on the school campus, according to Weirich.

“They post on social media about a challenge to see if they can get away with it in the bathroom or in the lunch room,” he said.

 

Parent perspective

With the increased popularity of Juuling and vaping, many parents are unaware of the hazards these pose, Ayala said.

For FISD parent Jennifer Schandua, her family approached it with an open mind.

“Just like with smoking or drinking, we knew our kids were going to experiment with this, but we wanted to be clear with them on where we stood on it,” she said.

Schandua says that she lumps it together with smoking and doesn’t see a difference between smoking and vaping and Juuling.

“We basically told them that there wasn’t a difference and that even though it looks cool and everyone was doing it, we didn’t want it to become a habit,” she said.

Schandua said several of her children’s friends had these vaping devices.

“I think it’s important to ask your child about why this interests them and why they want to do something like this,” she said. “To me, it is so surprising how many kids do this.”

Beth Tucker, a mother of three FHS graduates and one middle school student, allows her older children to use these devices, but with some restrictions.

“Our rule was that before they turned 18, they were not allowed to use vape that contained nicotine, which also means they were not allowed to Juul,” she said. “Now that they are older, we allow them to use whatever they want, as it is now their choice.”

When first approached with this situation, Tucker said the decision was hard.

“I was on one side and my husband was on the other,” she said. “I didn’t want my kids sneaking behind my back so I would rather they be up front about it.”

Knowing the marketing tactics these companies use, Tucker didn’t want this to be a form of deception.

“These companies know exactly what they are doing and how to get these kids interested,” Tucker said. “A lot of these devices look like a pencil or even a flash drive.”

 

Where to buy

With no clear end in sight, Juuls and vapes are easier and easier for teens to get their hands on.

After calling 10 local gas stations, the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post found that four businesses in town sell the devices and pods, including Stripes, Kwik Chek, Valero (516 South Adams) and Tejas Smoke Depot.

Older kids are also likely to sell to younger friends or family members.

Gould and Ayala do remind the community that you must be an adult to legally purchase these devices.

Fredericksburg Standard

P.O. Box 1639
Fredericksburg, TX 78624-4228
830-997-2155