Editor’s Note: Following publication of this story, the Trumbull Times was contacted by Theodore Kwang of JUUL Labs, who submitted the following comment for inclusion:
JUUL is intended for current adult smokers only. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. We stand committed to working with those who want to keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people.
JUUL, the most popular e-cigarette in the country, is a flash drive shaped device that, when paired with a “pod,” produces flavored vapors that are inhaled by a user. Each pod contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as one pack of traditional cigarettes.
Melissa McGarry, the program director of the Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking and Drugs, said her organization’s data indicates that Trumbull far outpaces both national and state averages for teen e-cigarette use. About 20% of Trumbull High students responded “yes” in TPAUD’s annual student survey when asked if they had vaped or used e-cigarettes like JUUL in the past 30 days. According to McGarry, this figure is 50% higher than the statewide average and 75% higher than the national average.
TPAUD’s data also revealed that even as reported use of marijuana and alcohol has been trending down among Trumbull teens, e-cigarette use is increasing.
“Vaping was the only substance that went up in last year’s survey,” said McGarry, “That is ringing alarm bells for us.”
For Trumbull High students, the prevalence of JUULs is a largely accepted norm. Several students who are regular users of e-cigarettes agreed to share their experiences with the Trumbull Times’ student correspondent on condition of anonymity because of their age and because their parents do not know they are users.
“I JUUL every day,” said one student. “It’s very casual, all of my friends have one. It’s really not specific to any social groups, sports teams, clubs, or interests.”
Another student, a senior who plays varsity athletics and maintains sterling academic marks, characterized her experience with JUUL as more laid back.
“I don’t use it that often”, she said, “I usually only JUUL when I’m out with my friends, it’s very casual.”
For some students, dependence on JUUL is more severe.
“At this point, I think I’m addicted to nicotine,” a junior said. During a regular week, he will go through “four or five” pods, he said.
Regardless of grade, social status, or academic performance, a broad consensus exists that JUULing is commonplace at the high school level. Motivations for using JUUL are similar throughout Trumbull High. Widespread social acceptance and ease of access, paired with the many stresses of teenage life have all contributed to an increased use of products like JUUL.
Nationwide research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that teen e-cigarette use has surged by 75% over last year’s data, easily eclipsing traditional cigarettes as the most common nicotine product among young people. In Trumbull, the higher rate of e-cigarette use means more pressing urgency.
McGarry explained that her organization is taking major steps to combat this growing concern. “These students are the smokers of the ’50s,” she said. Aside from its addictive nature, researchers are unsure of the long-term effects of inhaling the chemical-laden vapor.
For McGarry, the first step is the issue of awareness.
“I don’t think we as adults have been as vigilant about this as we are about other substances,” she said.
To combat this lack of awareness, parents are now provided with information about the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes at TPAUD’s mandatory ninth grade forum and students receive continuing education on the dangers of nicotine products in health class.
McGarry also emphasized the seriousness of nicotine addiction and her organization’s efforts to provide resources to students who have developed a dependence on products like JUUL. She highlighted programs like St. Vincent Hospital’s “Smoke Stoppers” and the Connecticut QuitLine, which provides vital services to those addicted to nicotine. McGarry also stressed the importance of enforcement operations to crack down on vendors illegally selling to minors. “Restricting access is a key step in prevention,” she said.
At Trumbull High, Principal Marc Guarino is joining McGarry in her efforts to curb teen e-cigarette use. Guarino explains that he, along with other administrators, always seeks to find “balance between traditional discipline and really getting help for our students.” While standard measures such as detentions, suspensions, and judicial referrals have proven effective at deterring first-time offenders and those not dependent on nicotine, Guarino said there are some students in need of legitimate help.
“If the student is truly addicted, a Saturday detention is not going to change that,” he said.
In some cases, the efforts of McGarry, Guarino, and others seem to be paying off. One student, a senior and varsity athlete, explained how he came to the realization that his JUULing habit was not healthy. He said he is trying to quit.
“It’s not good for your body,” he said. “A lot of my friends use it and I just followed them, I’m usually not a follower, but I just went with the crowd for this.”