Teacher’s Take: Judgements on Juuling

How do teachers feel about juuling across the Stuyvesant community?

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Vapes, e-cigarettes, or mods. No matter what you call them, these devices deliver a drug that is barred from students yet still commonly and often discreetly used by teenagers. One brand of e-cigarettes, stylized as JUUL, is becoming a distressingly growing problem. Because of its extremely popular use among adolescents, it has provoked major concerns from school officials and educators. Here are some thoughts from Stuyvesant teachers.

Minkyu Kim, English teacher

English teacher Minkyu Kim had firm thoughts on juuling. “I'm going to come off as the curmudgeonly guy yelling at a cloud, but honestly, I think this phenomenon [of juuling] is incredibly lame,” Kim said. “In short, I think you all look ridiculous.”

While juuling remains an underlying issue at Stuyvesant, it has yet to be properly dealt with. Kim actively intervenes when he witnesses students juuling. “I've caught a couple of kids trying to do it surreptitiously in the hallway, and I took the things away, but I'm honestly not sure why [I did so].” Kim said. “I know it's starting to be banned in places, but I think it's one of those things where it's so new that we as a society are just catching up to what [it] even is, and don't really know what we collectively feel about it yet. ”

Kim believes that the vaping problem at Stuyvesant might also relate to students’ perception of the amount of power that juuling holds over their appearance. “Students think it makes them subversive and rebellious, and therefore cool,” he said.

In addition to such psychological motivators, the chemical makeup of Juuls makes juuling as dangerous a practice as smoking cigarettes, and frankly, any other addictive habit that can harm one’s health. “I also assume [that students juul because] of nicotine addiction,” Kim explained. “As far as I understand it, by ingesting nicotine, you actually create a need that is only satisfied by more nicotine. So you think you're calmer, but really you're just fooling yourself. Creating a need that is only satisfied by consumption—it resonates with our capitalist sensibilities.”

However, Kim does believe that Juul may be beneficial when not used recreationally. “I did have a friend who used it to quit smoking, so I know it has a practical use for some people.” This, however, does not lessen the dangers of vaping. Both smoking and vaping could lead to serious consequences.

Zachary Berman, Social Studies teacher

Social Studies teacher Zachary Berman also noted the stigmas surrounding smoking and juuling, pointing out that “students have seen all this propaganda against smoking and now they think [juuling] is safe,” he said. While juuling may seem like a substitute for smoking, Berman drew attention to the fact that the act of juuling simply raises more problems: “If juuling helps you get off of cigarettes, what helps you get off of juuling? Nothing. It hooks you forever. It’s hard to quit,” he said.

Furthermore, Berman argued that vaping had the potential to be much more harmful than juuling: “[Vaping]’s safer in some ways but more dangerous in other ways because you don’t feel the smoke. The smoke hurts,” he commented.

Berman also expressed his concerns regarding the effects of nicotine. “You’re more likely to take more nicotine into the body, and I think it could easily be more addictive than cigarettes,” Berman explained. “Nicotine’s also very bad for your heart. I’m more just worried for their health.”

The measures needed to combat juuling in Stuyvesant lie partly in the hands of Stuyvesant’s faculty and staff. Such change requires communal action and widespread awareness of potential health risks. “It’s tricky because you don’t want to make it into a cops and robbers game and make everybody into cops and robbers,” Berman stated. “If you get caught again and again, there should be increasing punishments to discourage it, but you also don’t want to make it into cops and robbers. So you should have more propaganda about why juuling’s dangerous.”

Jennifer Suri, Assistant Principal of Social Studies

Assistant Principal of Social Studies Jennifer Suri believes that the risks that come with juuling may not be limited to physical health. She shared an experience where “a student’s backpack [caught] fire in class once from an electronic cigarette. His backpack started smoking. He opened it up and burned his hand on the cigarette. This was a sophomore,” Suri recalled. “This was a number of years ago.”

Despite the potential hazards posed by juuling, Suri believes that it is in young people's nature to vape, suggesting that students already know the risks but are willing to sacrifice the negative side effects to gain social clout. “[Vaping] is common,” Suri said. “[It’s common] developmentally, for adolescents to want to push the boundaries or experiment with things that are illicit.” This idea of exploring prohibited activities relates to the social reasoning Kim mentioned earlier, in which some students vape purely to look cool.

The compact design of Juul could also be part of the reason that students use it. “Maybe students want to experiment with smoking; they couldn’t do it secretly, [but] could do that now. [Juul] is easier to disguise. It looks like a memory stick, from what I understand, [or] like a USB,” Suri mentioned.

Suri pointed out that quite little is known of vaping and its potential effects, or how prominent student vaping is. “It may not lead so definitely to lung cancer because there are not the same carcinogens, but we don’t know what other possible effects it could have yet. I think the jury’s still out on it because we don’t know what it is you’re inhaling,” she said.

Suri also emphasized familial roles regarding this issue, maintaining that “parents don’t know about it as much as they should. They don’t know that their children are doing it,” she said. The guidance department conducted a workshop on juuling, trying to address this issue, to play a familial and guiding role for students. Ultimately, the most important step one can take is to increase awareness of the product: “Just [make] people aware that it exists, that they’re not supposed to do it, that there's some punishment to smoking in school,” Suri advised.