E-cigarette use is up in W-JCC schools

aheymann@vagazette.com

It’s small, comes in fruity flavors and can be purchased at most convenience stores in the area. It’s not candy, it’s Juul, the newest tobacco trend in use among teens across the country and in Williamsburg-James City County Schools.

Juuls are small — the size of a USB drive — and emit a water vapor rather than smoke, so students can take a puff and hide it in their backpack without getting caught.

“We know the devices are easy to conceal, which is why they are popular among the youths, along with the colorful flavors,” said Richard Foster, a spokesperson for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.

"My daughter says kids are doing this in the bathroom at her middle school,” said Shauna Moore, a parent of a W-JCC student.

Juuls, like any other tobacco product, are illegal to sell to minors. However, there is as much nicotine in a single refill, or one use, as there is in a pack of cigarettes. They are highly addictive.

Foster said Juuls can be a gateway to other tobacco products. A study published in 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that students who smoked e-cigarettes in the past month were about seven times more likely to report that they smoked cigarettes six months later, as compared to students who didn't use e-cigarettes.

Rising trend

The most widely used e-tobacco product in America is Juul, a small rectangular device resembling a USB stick, which is used by inserting pods. The pods, filled with nicotine liquids, come in flavors such as mango, mint and fruit medley, which have more appeal to young people than traditional tobacco flavor.

The numbers of Juul sales back up these statements. According to a July 2018 article by CNBC Juul sales make up 72.8 percent of the e-cigarette market. Juul’s dollar sales have skyrocketed 783 percent in the 52 weeks ended June 16, 2018,, reaching $942.6 million, according to the report.

The presence of vapes, Juuls and other e-cigarette devices in schools has increased in the past few years according to James City County Police Department spokeswoman Stephanie Williams.

Williams said this information comes from James City County school resource officers and their commanding officer.

“SRO’s are not reporting any ‘trends’ other than (Juuls) are growing in popularity, likely due to the fact that they are easy to conceal, the smell is not easily discernible and/or distinguishable (like with cigarettes), and the flavors (are) being marketed to be appealing,” Williams said.

W-JCC’s e-cigarette use mirrors the state as a whole. The Virginia Foundation of Healthy Youth’s website said while fewer students in Virginia are smoking traditional cigarettes, more are using e-cigarettes.

An anonymous survey in 2017 conducted by the foundation said 1.8 percent of high school students reported they used e-cigarettes, compared to 6.5 percent students saying they smoked for regular cigarettes. In contrast, 4.9 percent of middle schoolers said they used e-cigarettes compared to 2.4 percent using traditional cigarettes.

While W-JCC assistant superintendent for secondary schools, Catherine Worley hasn’t noticed an increase in e-cigarette use overall, she said she has noticed an increase in the use of Juuls in schools.

Every high school in W-JCC is within 2 miles of a Juul retailer, and every middle school is within 3 miles. Foster said anecdotally, Juul is a problem schools across the nation face.

But not all area stores that sell tobacco carry Juuls. Jacoby Shontz, the manager at Vape Zone at the Olde Towne Shopping Center on Longhill Road, said the store has never carried the product. He said there was no need for Juuls to have so much nicotine, which is why the store originally did not sell the product. After hearing about how Juul appealed to young people, Shontz said the store decided to continue not to stock the item.

“(W-JCC) is concerned overall about the easiness and accessibility of Juuling for our students,” Worley said. “Therefore we are working to bring awareness to this issue.”

She said many principals address student use of Juuls in newsletters and counselors talk to students about it.

However, Jeff Charville, the York-Poquoson County Sherriff Office’s school resource officer supervisor, said Juuls are not as much an issue in York County Public Schools.

“I will say it goes on in York County, I can’t say it’s a big issue,” Charville said. “Have we seen it? Yes. Are we seeing a lot of it? No.”

Health Issues

“First and foremost (W-JCC) is concerned about the impact (Juuls) can have on student health,” Worley said. “The effects of this kind of product is covered in health classes.”

One of the main health concerns with Juul is while it may not contain the same chemicals as cigarettes, it still possesses nicotine.

“The use of products containing nicotine poses dangers to youths, pregnant women, and fetuses. The use of products containing nicotine in any form among youth, including in e-cigarettes, is unsafe,” said a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The same report said in addition to being highly addictive, nicotine can also harm brain development in children.

Williams said school resource officers worry that e-tobacco use could affect each student differently.

For example, while one student may use a vape and have no reaction, another could use the same vape and have a negative reaction because of a medical condition like asthma or allergies.

Crack down

More than 1,300 warning letters and fines were issued to retailers who illegally sold Juuls and other e-cigarette products to minors during a nationwide, undercover blitz the FDA operated over the summer, according to the FDA.

One of the stores to receive a warning was a 7-Eleven in Norfolk.

Juul has claimed its flavor pods weren’t marketed toward children, but that it was “sensitive to the concern.” Early in November, the company announced it would limit the sale of flavored pods to those 21 and older.

While the sale of Juuls has become more regulated, it can still be a challenge to catch students using them.

“A lot of parents and educators are not fully versed on this yet, it's still very new,” Foster said. “If you didn’t know what they were they look like a big USB drive.”

However, Worley said now most teachers know what a Juul is.

“I served as a principal for six years before moving into (assistant superintendent) and it was definitely something on the minds and hearts of teacher and our staff, it was discussed often and we talked about ways to be preventative,” Worley said.

While teachers may be aware of what Juuls are, Worley said detecting their use is still hard for teachers because they look like USBs and only emit water vapor.

“It is not a smell that sticks around or gets in a student’s clothes, so it's easy to hide,” Worley said.

Worley added many schools in the division are taking more preventative methods to keep students from using Juuls in school.

“I know some schools are doing their best to re-assign duty positions of staff members during the day when they know there is a high traffic time or students in bathrooms. We try to post adults around the building … to prevent students from wanting to take the chance to go into a bathroom and pull out a Juul.”

While possessing these devices by minors is illegal, Williams said depending on the circumstances, school resource officers may not always charge a student with a crime.

“There could be instances where the schools handle the offense without notifying police,” Williams said. According to W-JCC’s Code of Student Conduct, schools are not required to report tobacco-related offenses to police.

Worley said students are punished on a case by case basis; but the maximum punishment for using Juuls is in-school suspension or loss of bus privileges, the same as any other tobacco offense.

“As the offense re-occurs, the consequence increases,” Worley said.

While W-JCC is working hard to prevent and stop Juul usage, it is an ongoing issue for the district.

“(Administrators) are very concerned about (Juuls),” Worley said. “They’re increasing communication, they’re encouraging students to come forward and talk to them about it, and they are definitely putting things in place … to be proactive.”

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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