Up in smoke


Noah Pittarelli, Editor in Chief

Typically, when one comes across an article about vapes and electronic cigarettes, the expectation is to be bombarded with facts and statistics on why use of these products is bad for one’s health. However, the scale of the economy behind e-cigarettes, or Juuls in particular, in high schools is something truly to be buzzing about.

Founded by two former cigarette smokers, Juul Labs was established in hopes to provide a gateway for smokers to quit their unhealthy habits.

With a combination of help from peers over the age of 18 and the failure of some store clerks to card, it is easy for students of all ages to buy and sell these products to underage peers.

One junior makes it evident that students don’t have to travel far to acquire Juul products.

“I obtain my Juul and my pods from a store in Rolesville, and if not, from a friend,” he said.

Typically, students only need to buy one rechargeable e-cigarette, subsequently needing to periodically purchase packs of individual pods for continuous use.

One junior expressed some concerns on budgeting when it came to Juul expenditures.

“I have to watch my bank account constantly. If my friends want to hang out, I have to make sure I have enough to hang out and buy pods,” he said. “I don’t like that because it makes pods a priority in my life over everything else.”

Principal Patti Hamler stated that the administration is on top of the problem.

“It is a concern of ours, the usage of the Juuls. The students are finding ways to get them here at school. We have suspended many kids for possession of the Juuls, we have suspended kids for selling the Juuls and we continue to deal with it on a daily basis,” Hamler said.

The scale and frequency of the issue is highlighted by Assistant Principal Larry Ferebee.

“I can say that it is a major issue. We collect Juul pods (and Juuls) on the regular. I don’t think there is a week that goes by, there are days that go by, but there is never a week that goes by that we don’t,” Ferebee said. “I think it is a huge problem. You can smell it before you catch it, and a lot of times we do smell that it has been there. I can say that it is widespread, but we’re trying our best to keep our hands on it.”

Why Juul in the first place?

“I Juul because you can get buzzed sometimes, and it’s fun to do tricks with the smoke/vapor. I also feel influenced by my peers around me, since a majority of my friends vape. I started because people around me started getting regular vapes, and then it went from using regular vapes to using Juuls or Suorins (similar to a Juul),” another sophomore said. “I’d rather buy a Juul over a vape because it has a higher amount of nicotine, so it gets you more buzzed.”

Through over 30 interviews conducted by Forest Fire reporters of all grade levels, it became apparent that there is a campus black market economy for both Juuls and Juul pods.

“I buy Juul pods on school grounds. I find someone who sells Juul pods, and then we set up somewhere to meet up between classes or during lunch. I just go there and give them $20 and they give me the pack,” a sophomore said.

There are a number of different places where students find access to the Juul economy in school.

“I got to school, and I went to my friend’s car. She was like ‘here you go,’ and I said ‘thanks so much you’re a blessing.’ Then I asked if she had pods, and she asked if I had $20 because she could take me to get some after school (as the friend was 18),” a junior said.

One junior claims social media is used to “advertise” the selling of these products by students.

“It’s super easy. You can go up to a lot of people and ask for pods. Some people even sell pods on their Snapchat stories,” she said.

To actually obtain these products requires money. One junior claims to have multiple streams of income that he can use to purchase his Juul products.

“I obtain my money from work, lunch money and/or rolling dice,” he said. One sophomore also claims to use money given to her for things other than Juul purchases.

“Usually, my parents give me money for food and stuff, and let me keep the change,” she said.

One senior girl even stated that her mom buys her Juul products, as she is under age.

Both sides of the school’s Juul economy have been seen by one sophomore.

“I have purchased and sold a Juul product on school grounds,” she said. “One time, it was in the commons, and another was in the bathroom. In the commons, I was worried I was going to get caught. I think people sell and buy Juul products on campus every day.”

Hamler leads a proactive approach on eliminating the problem within the school.

“Staff and administration are monitoring the hallways, monitoring the bathrooms and monitoring traffic. Just watching. It’s just all about watching. You then have parents who call and share with us,” Hamler said. “Parents who are watching their kids’ social media. They’ll see their social media and tell us, in one case before, where their child is getting ready to go to meet someone to buy a Juul. We’ve been able to get it just off of that parent call. The other piece of that is, if you’re under the age of 18, it’s illegal by law.”

Some students see many adverse effects from their Juul addictions, fueling one junior’s desire to keep buying the nicotine-infused products.

“When you hit a Juul, you get a good feeling in your body, but then you feel light-headed,” he said. “You also start to fiend (crave) and want to use the Juul product more often.”

Another junior draws attention to some more negative effects from withdrawal.

“I get headaches if I haven’t Juuled for two to three days. My lungs are probably jacked up. If I do too much in one sitting, my stomach hurts really bad,” she said.

School administration focuses on proactive prevention, but Christopher Davis, assistant principal over the freshmen students, implies they have their eyes on the health aspects as well.

“We continuously research stuff like this. We talk to different people about it whether it be doctors or people in the medical profession that might have seen people within the ER, whether it’s THC in it or nicotine, or whatever it might be,” Davis said. “We’re constantly learning through stuff we might see in the news, through research and medical professionals. Our SRO is also aware of it because they go through drug classes and everything like that. We just want to keep everyone safe.”

Not all negative effects are health related.

A junior boy claims the Juul/pod selling process to have made him uneasy. The Juul economy is complex and risky.

“I’ve bought and sold Juul products in school, usually in the bathroom, classroom or during lunch. I’ve also sold hundreds of dollars worth of Juuls and pods during the school day or in the library before first period,” he said. “It was a nerve-wracking job because lots of people knew me as the plug for the school, and you couldn’t trust anyone because you could get in trouble with administration. I would walk around the school with $200 to $500 daily in my pocket. It was nerve wracking because you couldn’t walk alone to the bathroom or anywhere by yourself because there could be a group of people coming to jump me and steal my earnings and products.”

Ferebee notes there is an additional factor contributing to the number of Juul infractions on campus.

“Confiscating them. That’s our main goal, to confiscate them. However, the issue is when we confiscate them we contact the parents. The parents can pick them up, and sometimes we have the same people back within a couple of weeks. Majority of the students we do find Juuling, parents have no idea,” Ferebee said.

At least one student is speaking out to address the problem. Senior Jensen Abhau has started a campaign to encourage students not to Juul in school.

Abhau said, “Over the summer when I started, the FDA was not taking much action against teen Juuling. I decided to take action and produce content against the use of the cancer sticks.”

These devices are not all that they are advertised to be, according to Ferebee.

“Don’t do it. Don’t do it. I know that they can get their hands on them; however, if they can’t get their hands on it legally, they shouldn’t do it. Though some argue that it’s safer than smoking a cigarette, smoking is smoking, so I would just say don’t do it.”