Vaping goes mainstream

High tech devices especially popular on local campuses



TOOLS OF THE TRADE—At right, the Juul vaporizor is a popular e-cigarette device among teens because it looks and operates like a USB stick. Parents are worried.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE—The Juul vaporizor is a popular e-cigarette device among teens because it looks and operates like a USB stick. Parents are worried.

Juul, Suorin, juice, pods— the new lexicon of vaping— are making the consumption of harmful nicotine easier and more popular than ever. Parents, teachers and health professionals are searching for ways to combat the trend before teens get hopelessly hooked. Some of the new devices turn nicotine-laced vape juice into tasty, pleasant smelling flavors, which are easier to conceal.

In short, kids are finding the new smoking technology irresistible, and some even believe the effect of the vaporized nicotine is harmless, one school official said.

Unhealthy trend

So, your child has in their possession what looks like a computer thumb drive, but it’s really a Juul, a small, vape juice delivery device that doesn’t contain megabytes, but mega-nicotine. You’re totally in the blind. What are you going to do?

A new contraption called Suorin Air is even smaller and easier to hide.

About that technology.

“Some students still use Juuls, but as you know, students like the latest things and the Sourin devices seem to be more popular now,” Oak Park High School principal Kevin Buchanan told The Acorn. “They are also very small and marketed for their stealthiness.”

SMOKIN’—Vaping and e-cigarette products, including those from Juul, on display at a local shop. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers

SMOKIN’—Vaping and e-cigarette products, including those from Juul, on display at a local shop. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers

Buchanan spoke about vaping and its danger to teen health at the Jan. 16 Oak Park Unified Board of Education meeting.

Part of the problem, the principal said, is that vaping is being marketed to the public as a way to stop smoking. In reality, he said, the new technology is making the habit more fun than ever. Young smokers are the target, and kid-friendly, juice names such as Cherry Crust, Cotton Candy, Bubblegum and Cheesecake have become the weapon.

POD CAST IN A BAD LIGHT— The Juul vape device and USB charger has triggered concern among parents because it can be plugged into a laptop at home and even on campus. The act of smoking can easily be hidden because the piece looks like a USB stick in hand. The device costs about $40. STEPHANIEBERTHOLDOAcorn Newspapers

POD CAST IN A BAD LIGHT— The Juul vape device and USB charger has triggered concern among parents because it can be plugged into a laptop at home and even on campus. The act of smoking can easily be hidden because the piece looks like a USB stick in hand. The device costs about $40. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO Acorn Newspapers

Juul said in a company statement that minors are forbidden from using their products.

“Juul Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarette smoking by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. Juul is not intended for anyone else. We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors,” the company said.

The owner of a local smoke shop who spoke on condition of anonymity believes vaping is helpful because it gives users a means to stop smoking deadlier, traditional cigarettes. The owner agreed that people under 21 should not vape in accordance with the law—and said that he and his employees are diligent when it comes to checking customer identification.

Conventional nicotine replacement therapies must go through rigorous clinical trials before being marketed, but studies on whether or not vaping helps people stop smoking have yet to be proven, The Acorn has learned. And while many vape store owners market their products as a way to quit smoking, health professionals say that vaping nicotine and smoking traditional cigarettes at the same time could be dangerous. Some experts believe users who vape might have a false sense of safety and may continue their nicotine habit as a result.

Chemicals found in vaping juice or pods pose health risks beyond just addiction. Stillblowingsmoke.org has reported that “popcorn lung,” an irreversible, deadly lung disease linked to diacetyl—the chemical used for the buttery flavor of popcorn that is safe to eat but dangerous to inhale—is found in vape juices.

The local store owner disputes criticism about the chemicals found in vape juice and pods. The amount of carcinogens released from a vaporizer is miniscule, he said. One complaint stemmed from a heating wire in devices that was thought to be carcinogenic. The industry addressed the problem by offering devises that use ceramic, flaxseed or cotton wicks, which are believed to be safer.

Traditional smoking can pollute lungs with up to 20 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette. The vaping equivalent of one cigarette, he said, is only between three and six milligrams. Most people who are trying to quit smoking start with a higher juice or pod strength and reduce the nicotine content as they wean off of cigarettes.

Most experts agree that nicotine is harmful no matter how it’s packaged or delivered.

“Any individual who has not previously used nicotine products should not start, particularly youth,” Juul said in its statement. “We encourage parents to talk with their children about the dangers of nicotine. As a company we also continuously seek ways to contribute to this dialogue and knowledge base.”

Classroom tactics

To complicate matters, Vape pens are now so small that students can bring them to class and even charge them on their computers because teachers are fooled into thinking they are thumb drives. And while the fruity and minty flavored vape juice is all the rage among teens, odorless juices or pods are also available, which has emboldened some students into taking a puff or two from their device while sitting in class.

To combat the growing threat, teachers must first be trained to detect the devices, and parents and students must be educated about the harmful effects of vaping, Buchanan says.

Dan Stepenosky, superintendent of Las Virgenes Unified School District, has been taking an aggressive stance against vaping for more than two years.

The district has been working to educate parents, students and teachers about the dangers of the habit.

“Smoking among Americans and especially teens has been on the decline for years, but with these new devices, people are seeing a disturbing increase across the board: parks, malls, outside and in cars,” Stepenosky said. “We’re focused on schools and doing what we can to educate students and parents about the new (devices) and doing what we can to stop its use on campus and discourage its use, period.”

Conejo Valley Unified is also taking a stance. School board members recently updated their policies governing the prohibition of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis on school grounds.

Assistant Superintendent Lou Lichtl said the district has seen a spike in the use of vapes on campus over the past 18 months.

Silas Nesheiwat, the parent of two Thousand Oaks High School students, said teens deserve a safe and welcoming learning environment and he asked to what extent vaping-related student discipline has contributed to the district’s overall suspension rate.

Neshewiat, a member of the TOHS school site council, told The Acorn that 12 students have been suspended for vaping on campus over the past year.

“Our high school bathrooms are now being repurposed as smoking lounges,” he said. “It affects each and every student.”

Buchanan said expensive detection devices are being installed in student restrooms and locker rooms at Oak Park High

“They detect any rise in the humidity and therefore would be able to detect both tobacco and marijuana,” he said.

Students caught vaping at Oak Park High suffer consequences ranging from suspension to expulsion.

The same rules that apply to mainstream products such as cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes and snuff also apply to vaping.

Dawn Megli-Thuna and John Loesing contributed to this article.