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Too Juul for school: FDA considers regulations as teen vaping rises



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The Food and Drug Administration commissioner released a statement Wednesday calling youth use of the Juul and other vapes an “epidemic” and announced a new “enforcement blitz” to keep the products out of teens’ hands. Photo illustration by Ty Vinson Buy Photos

High schoolers hotbox their moms’ cars with mango-flavored clouds, working up the energy to face the first bell. Discarded flavor pods litter parking lots.

Juul culture has descended upon Indiana and the rest of the country.

This year’s Indiana Youth Survey found nearly 30 percent of Indiana high school seniors reported vaping in the last month. This is a 45 percent increase compared to the survey’s 2017 findings.

“People do it in class, people do it in the bathrooms, people do it in the halls,” Carmel High School junior Sean Burgess said. “You just wouldn’t believe it.”

The Food and Drug Administration commissioner released a statement Wednesday calling youth use of the Juul and other vapes an “epidemic” and announced a new “enforcement blitz” to keep the products out of teens’ hands.

Notices sent to five leading e-cigarette manufacturers Wednesday morning, including Juul Labs, require the companies to submit action plans to curb underage use within 60 days.

Failing to do so could result in e-cigarettes being pulled indefinitely from shelves nationwide.

Across the state, high schoolers and college students alike have taken to vaping, especially using the Juul, a sleek, USB drive-shaped vaporizer with the same nicotine concentration crammed into one JUULpod as an entire pack of cigarettes.

“The sad thing is, when people start I don’t think they do it for the nicotine,” Bloomington High School North senior Christian Gettelfinger said. “They just get hooked on it.”

Juul Labs markets its product as a satisfying alternative to cigarettes for those trying to quit smoking. Though the company plasters warnings all over its packages and website, the elegant little devices are sneaking their way into high schools nationwide.

“It’s all from the Juul,” Homestead High School senior Ashley Federoff said. “It’s just easy to get ahold of.”

Federoff looked over during her AP Calculus exam last spring to see a boy she’d known since elementary school taking rips from his Juul. She also knows guys who schedule time out of their day to go to the bathroom and curb their nicotine cravings together.

Roncalli High School senior Ben Schwab said freshmen ask him to buy them pods all the time. Across high schools, minors lean on older siblings and peers as suppliers.

“It’s kind of the same thing as alcohol,” Schwab said. “But it’s probably a lot easier to go into the gas station and say, ‘Oh I forgot my ID,’ and get away with buying a little tobacco product than a bottle of vodka.”

Federoff said it’s easy to see who’s buying and selling pods – just look for Venmo transactions labeled “Mango” or “Cucumber,” two popular flavors.

Though Schwab doesn’t know anyone his age who smokes cigarettes, Federoff said some of her peers started out with the Juul and moved on to cigarettes because of the cost.

“The pods get expensive, so if they can’t buy pods, they’ll buy cigarettes,” she said.

This contradicts the mission posted on Juul Labs’ website.

“We did not create JUUL to undermine years of effective tobacco control, and we do not want to see a new generation of smokers,” the website reads. “We believe JUUL can accelerate cigarette displacement.”

Munster High School junior Sophie Hand found someone’s Juul — with their name carved in it — in her study hall. She said her teachers started putting the school’s no-tolerance policy for vaping in their syllabuses.

Sophie’s twin brother Ben Hand said he’s seen plumes of vapor in certain bathrooms in the school during lunch or between classes.

“I do think it needs to be addressed because there’s really no reason for it,” Ben Hand said. “It’s a distraction from the school day because you have kids leaving class to hit their Juuls.”

As school administrators grapple with the new and discrete device, different policies have sprouted up across the state.

The Monroe County Community School Corporation’s spokesman Andrew Clampitt said the district has a strict ban on any kind of vaping or smoking in schools.

Jake Thurman, dean of student affairs at University High School in Carmel, Indiana, said this problem needs to be addressed at its source.

“It’s almost like anything where society might prefer abstinence, like drugs or alcohol or sex or Juuls," Thurman said. "I don’t think that telling kids they shouldn’t do it and can’t do it in draconian terms is very useful."

University High School is planning an assembly this week on vaping, Thurman said, but they’re hoping to turn it into a larger discussion about student wellness.

“Clearly something about this is appealing to kids, just like smoking was or cigarettes were when I or these kids’ parents were in high school,” he said.

Schwab said using a Juul is just a sign of the times, and Burgess said it’s what high schoolers do to fit in now. 

“When someone is Juuling and you’re around them, you want to do it,” Burgess said. “It really gets to you.”

Some people, however, just don’t think using a Juul is cool anymore.

“I can’t help but laugh when I see someone do it because it looks so ridiculous,” Thurman said. “You’re sucking on a flash drive.”

Thurman then paused for a moment.

“I just can’t imagine what our culture would be like if Humphrey Bogart sucked on a flash drive,” he said.

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