Features

Release of JUUL Increases Instances of Vaping at Stuyvesant

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Issue 10, Volume 109

By Veronika Kowalski 

The interviewees who chose to remain anonymous are numbered chronologically by when their interviews took place.

While 64.2 percent of Stuyvesant students reported never or seldom having sought out reliable information concerning the effects of vaping, as many as 61.7 percent asserted they are well-informed on the subject, according to the results of an anonymous survey sent out to all students. There were 587 responses.

Invented by Stanford graduates James Monsees and Adam Bowen, JUUL is a brand of e-cigarette that was released in 2015. In its earliest stages, JUUL flaunted its device to young people in order to secure a generation of lifelong customers, according to reporting by the New York Times. The device has the dimensions of a person’s ring finger and is shaped like a USB stick. A square-shaped pod, which contains a transparent liquid, is inserted at the top. Within a mile radius of Stuyvesant High School, there are now 49 shops that sell JUUL products.

Among recently released vaping products, JUUL has gained the most popularity, according to a study by CBS. Vaping has been an available alternative for smokers for more than a decade, with brands such as Joytech, Aspire, and Charlie’s Chalk Dust competing in the market. Prior to PAX Labs coming out with JUUL, only 2.6 percent of Stuyvesant used any of the devices. Following JUUL’s release and the use of marketing strategies targeted at teens, as many as 15.7 percent of Stuyvesant students report vaping currently, and 24.2 percent report having vaped at some point. The introduction of this product to the market has increased the rate of vaping at Stuyvesant by a factor of six.

What makes JUUL appealing to teenagers across the nation also makes it appealing to Stuyvesant students. “JUUL has made vaping into an Apple product,” a surveyed student said. “The LED light on the JUUL shines rainbow colors if you shake it after you take a hit. That is so obviously targeted [toward] a younger audience.”

The number of freshmen who vape is increasing. “It’s becoming a lot easier to get. When I was a freshman, there were only seniors who JUULed, but now it’s every single class,” said Student 2, who requested to remain anonymous. Some people may choose to purchase equipment from JUUL’s website using someone else’s identification. “They’d buy packs, and then they’d sell them in school,” the student reported. “It’s mostly for Manhattan people,” he explained, since many of the bodegas in Brooklyn do not check for ID. “It’s not even their fault. They have to keep up with the economy, too. It’s just a big business. If you don’t ID, everybody comes. It’s like a sex party.”

“I'm pretty sure it's way better for you, in comparison, than cigarettes. It's very addictive, but in comparison to cigarettes, it's not as harmful,” Student 3 admitted. The only argument the individual has heard against the case of vaping is that not enough information has been gathered about the topic. The lack of current widespread knowledge about the effects of nicotine on the body without tar testifies to the few effects it might actually have. “I think that JUULing is not as bad as cigarettes,” Student 3 said. “Cigarettes release tar in your lungs. The nicotine is just addictive, but the tar actually gives you lung cancer [Prager University]. JUULing doesn’t give you lung cancer, I don’t think. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone getting lung cancer off JUUL.”

It is common knowledge that one JUUL pod is equivalent to one pack of cigarettes in terms of nicotine content, but the effects of nicotine other than its addictive properties are frequently glossed over. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Nicotine is associated with erectile dysfunction and decreased sexual arousal.”

Student 1 reported using JUUL on and off for a period of time. The device is simultaneously calming and energizing. Student 1 noticed having better performance in a memorization-heavy class when she used the product before an exam. She does not vape very often, though, because JUUL pods are expensive. “I care about FDA regulations ever since pharmaceutical companies jacked up their prices,” she said in an e-mail interview. The use of nicotine does, in fact, increase short-term memory retention, as well as reduce one’s chance of acquiring Parkinson’s disease (Scientific American). It also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke (TIME), in addition to weakening the immune system, speeding the skin aging process (drdayan.com), and causing attention deficits (NIH).

Between 2009 and 2016, there have been 195 documented explosions of electronic cigarettes, at least two of which have been lethal, according to reporting by CNN.

“I started JUULing because a bunch of other people were,” Student 3 said. “When I came to Stuyvesant, the first day, I saw kids JUULing in the escalators. I thought, ‘Whoa, this is so cool. I’m in high school, and kids are smoking around in the school.’ It was shocking, it was cool, it was intimidating. It’s a lot more of a mature environment. People are doing that stuff, and no one cares.” Witnessing others vape thus became a new normal.

Student 4 was first offered to try a JUUL product in the beginning of his sophomore year, when his friend described the head rush it caused. "Yo, look at this. It makes your head feel crazy,” the friend said. “It makes you feel nice in your head.” Student 4 initially declined, but the friend persisted. Student 4 ended up trying it out, and after a year and a half of use, the head rush is not as intense as it used to be. “Now, it doesn’t do anything, actually,” he affirmed. “It’s just addictive.” Student 3 added, “Once you do it a lot, you don’t feel it as much, but when you don’t do it, you start to feel a headache.”

It gives the user a relaxing sensation, and it is a social activity. “I do it when I’m around other people, and when people offer it to me, I don’t feel like saying no,” Student 3 continued. “If other people at Stuyvesant didn’t do it, I don’t think I would be doing it. The only reason I’m doing it is because all my friends do it.”

According to students, one becomes less attractive if one smokes cigarettes, though that is not the case with JUUL devices. “There’s this really hot girl in our grade who smokes cigarettes, and I think she’s less attractive now because of it,” Student 2 confessed. JUULing, on the other hand, does not seem wrong. “Cigarettes are more dangerous and more unattractive,” the student said. Student 3 also witnesses other Stuyvesant students smoking traditional cigarettes on infrequent occasions. In his view, traditional cigarettes have negative overtones because of the way commercials depict adults with lung cancer.

During the interview, Student 2 demonstrated a way one might vape discreetly. “Let’s say I’m in class. It would be so easy to just hide it.” He pulled his sleeve past his wrist and held his hand to his mouth. “You keep the smoke in your mouth until it’s gone,” he instructed. In instances where this method is used, the act of vaping is seldom noticed. “It’s so small, too,” Student 3 added. “A lot of people say it looks like a flash drive.”

Since JUUL’s domination of the market, some companies have implemented a similar design to products of their own. MYLÉ, which has a durable charger and comes in a few different colors, is another popular brand of e-cigarette. It “hits stronger” and can be charged via USB rather than by a cable, allowing for greater mobility. “Everybody in Brooklyn is on the MYLÉ,” Student 2 said.

Student 4’s parents are aware of his use of the product. “They think poorly of it. But they're not super mad about it,” he said, though he still believes it is right for parents to feel angry about the situation.

Vaping can be an inconvenience, he continued. Student 4 has to make the decision between going to the bathroom for a hit and getting to class on time. When he chooses the former option, his grades decline as a result. And as one survey respondent stated, “A lot of users don't know how to get help without getting into really big trouble.”

Another survey respondent expressed similar feelings. “People all around the school, including me, are using it every free second they have,” the student said. “[They’re] doing almost anything to get their hands on more pods when they run out.” When they do run out of pods, individuals become “more irritable” and “aren’t themselves,” the student continued. Furthermore, JUUL is intermittently used as a gateway drug. “When kids are introduced to JUUL, they become much more likely to use THC oil pens and marijuana in its more potent form, oil,” the survey respondent said.

An anonymous teacher who reported having some students who vape is suspicious of the company’s true motives. The advertisements make the product appealing and attractive to young people. JUUL products look like flash drives; they are not seen as cigarettes. They are assumed to be safer because they do not contain all the chemicals from tobacco, but some of the ingredients in e-cigarettes can become carcinogenic when heated (Washington Post). In addition, their study found that people who preferred using fruit-flavored vaping products showed higher concentrations of the carcinogenic chemical acrylonitrile in their urine. The chemicals formaldehyde and acrolein, which are included in the vapor of e-cigarettes, can cause “irreversible lung damage” (American Lung Association). When inhaled, formaldehyde can cause leukemia, a form of bone cancer.

“Years ago, smoking cigarettes was not considered dangerous or unhealthy,” Brian Moran, Assistant Principal of Safety, Health, and Physical Education said in an e-mail interview. Today, the harmful effects of traditional cigarettes are common knowledge. There is a parallel in that mentality with vaping.

One of the anonymous teacher’s students, who had moved on to using traditional cigarettes from JUUL products to reduce spending and nicotine intake, approached the teacher about her concerns. Currently, the student is in the process of quitting the product. “It’s not easy,” the teacher affirmed, especially since the JUUL device delivers more nicotine to the user per puff than a typical cigarette. The teacher is willing to assist students who approach her.

“I’ll be honest,” she said. “I’m actually very happy when a student is able to openly approach me about the product. It takes a lot of trust, and it takes a lot of courage for the student to come and talk to me openly about it.” If a person notices she isn’t able to control her nicotine intake, she might want to take a step back and seek help. “It doesn’t have to be a counselor,” the teacher elaborated. “It can be maybe someone you trust. It can be a teacher.”

SPARK counselor Angel Colon defines success in quitting by a student’s progress made. “It can be a small progress, or eventually, enough of a progress that they’re doing better than they were,” he said.

Some students have noticed that what started as a social activity has become a legitimate dependence. “I commonly describe it as being in a desert for two to three days without any liquids or water, and all of a sudden [you] find a cold Gatorade and you can quench your thirst. That's what every breath of a JUUL feels like: pure satisfaction,” one student noted in the survey.

Another student said, “Moderation is key, and being knowledgeable about the product and the choices you make [is] very important.”