SHERIDAN — According to a June 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated number of middle and high school students who are tobacco users dropped from 4.7 million in 2015 to 3.9 million in 2016.
Now, students have seemingly turned to a less hazardous but still harmful habit: e-cigarettes or vaping.
In February, Wells Fargo projected the vaporizer market value to jump this year to around $5.5 billion, about a 25 percent increase from last year.
The most prominent vaping item is the Juul, — pronounced like “jewel” — named after the brand that sells the items. The Juul is made of a skinny vaporizer into which pods containing nicotine juice are placed; they come in eight flavors. The device can be charged through a USB port. The vaporizer heats the nicotine juice in the pod, which the user inhales. Each pod contains about the same amount of nicotine as a packet of cigarettes.
Sheridan County School District 2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults said administrators first became aware of Juuling last fall. School resource officers at Sheridan High School and Sheridan Junior High School have done informational presentations to students and faculty.
Stults said Juuls have been confiscated in SCSD2 but aren’t a huge problem.
However, “one (incident) is too many,” Stults said. “It’s also not OK to put our head in the sand and say this stuff doesn’t go on in schools … It concerns me immensely.”
Stults is also infuriated by what he views as companies taking “advantage of our youth for one purpose: their pockets.”
UBlaze Vapor owner Luke Anderson disagreed. Anderson believes Juul products are clearly marketed toward adults trying to quit smoking and repeatedly emphasized that he never sells to people under age 18.
“My market is current smokers, period,” Anderson said. “This is an issue of a legitimate product meeting a legitimate need, which is harm reduction for smokers.”
UBlaze started selling Juul products about a year ago, but they haven’t been big sellers so far. Anderson said it is unfortunate that some minors have used Juul products but society shares a responsibility for safe use. Schools need to educate students on the risks and consequences; parents need to have honest conversations with their kids; and stores like uBlaze can’t sell products to minors, he said.
“We just all have to do our part,” Anderson said. “This isn’t a new problem. It’s a new trend with the same problem we’ve had over and over and over … It’s been a problem with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, tobacco.”
Anderson said there are also misconceptions about vaping. For example, nicotine is a stimulant, not a carcinogen, and therefore does not cause lung cancer, making vaping safer than smoking in that regard.
SJHS principal Rebecca Adsit said the school plans to present Juul information to parents during an upcoming advisory meeting.
Adsit said one of the biggest issues has been the Juul’s resemblance to both a flash drive and a container for mechanical pencil lead.
Like at SHS, Adsit said SJHS hasn’t had any significant issues with Juuling.
“It hasn’t been a big problem,” Adsit said. “I don’t want to say 100 percent (problem-free), but we just haven’t seen that.”
In SCSD2, consequences for vaping are the same as tobacco violations. If a student is under 18, he or she will receive a citation from a police officer and face school consequences as well.
The SHS and SJHS 2017-18 student/parent handbooks consider tobacco use or possession a major misbehavior. The first offense results in a one-day in-school suspension and suspension from 25 percent of extracurricular contests or games. A second offense results in a three-day in-school suspension and suspension from 50 percent of contests or games. The third offense carries a five-day in-school suspension and dismissal from all extracurricular activities for the remainder of a student’s high school career.
Adsit also said SJHS recently added a section to the 2018-19 SJHS handbook addressing vaping paraphernalia and will include the topic in a presentation given to students at the beginning of every school year.
Sheridan County School District 3 superintendent Charles Auzqui said he hasn’t heard of any incidents, mentioning that items like the Juul usually arrive later in rural communities.
In Sheridan County School District 1, superintendent Marty Kobza also said he is not aware of any reported incidences of Juul use in the school district so far. SCSD1 students also use Google Chromebooks instead of flash drives, making it more difficult to disguise a Juul device.
That doesn’t mean Juuling can’t happen, though.
“It’s one of those situations where it always seems to be a cat and mouse game with some of this stuff,” Kobza said. “We have to stay hyper-aware.”
As vaping devices like the Juul become more common, school officials remain proactive in their approach to awareness and punishment around the potentially harmful products.