Pass the Juul: Vaping rampant among students


Graphic by Ayomi Wolff

Zara Hall and Maddy Kessler

With teen cigarette smoking in the US at an all-time low, the typical 80s movie scene where three girls are crowded in the end stall by the window smoking a cigarette is unheard of. Instead, on a visit to the third-floor girl’s bathroom, you may find six pairs of feet in the handicap stall sucking fruity-scented smoke out of a futuristic USB-drive. Some students may be as bold to discreetly get high by taking a “hit” out of a dab pen in the back of their English class when the teacher is turned around. 

Vaping has been making national headlines in recent weeks for causing a mysterious lung illness in more than 1,080 people, but Principal Kimberly Martin noticed a problem among Wilson students more than a year ago. “I knew students that had upper respiratory issues or breathing problems, whether it was from a dab cart or actual vape products like Juuls,” Martin said.

E-cigarettes, or vape pens, are devices that vaporize a liquid, most often containing nicotine that the user inhales. They are marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, which some students find appealing. “I feel like there is a stigma around smoking cigarettes, but not vaping. Because the smoke isn’t noticeable, I didn’t think it was bad for me,” a junior said.

However, they still contain dangerously high levels of nicotine, which is highly addictive. Their fruity flavors like mint, mango, and creme brulee make them attractive to teenagers, who often don’t realize their harm.

Vaping is far more common at Wilson than smoking cigarettes. A Beacon survey of 180 students found that 62.0 percent of students have used a marijuana and/or nicotine vape product, while only 33.4 percent of students have smoked a cigarette. This has become a frequent habit for those who do vape, with 25.32 percent of students reporting using an e-cigarette product weekly, and 19.32 percent reported daily use.

Despite the popularity of e-cigarettes amongst American teenagers, vaping marijuana is more common at Wilson. Of the 111 Wilson students polled who have vaped, 90 percent have used dab pens, as opposed to 77 percent who have used a Juul/Suorin. Dab pens vaporize a THC concentrate instead of nicotine, and multiple students reported using them as a stress reliever. “I can’t fall asleep without my dab pen,” a junior said. 

Martin has mainly tried to combat the problem by educating parents about the risks of vaping. She sends information about the dangers of vaping in her weekly newsletter, and has partnered with the Truth Initiative to provide students with a text program designed to help them stop vaping. 

To further reduce vaping among students, Wilson has heightened the punishment for bringing in vape products. “We started sending home any students that brought in products whereas last year we just used to collect them,” Martin said. When students are caught with vapes, they are collected, recorded, and then thrown out in batches every six months. E-cigarettes can be detected by the screening machines at security, but, according to Martin, many students still find ways to bring them in. 

Students who are caught vaping in school face an even greater penalty. Vaping on Wilson’s premises is a Tier III DCPS offense, which is punishable with in-school or out of school suspension. 

The possibility of suspension doesn’t deter some students. “I Juul in class every time there is a sub, and have never been caught,” a student said. Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely.”