Over the last several months, Burlingame has seen a rise in student use of electronic cigarettes, the most common of which is the Juul—a brand of e-cigarettes made by PAX Labs and distinguished by its intensely high nicotine content compared to competitive devices. Several incidents have occurred on campus where students were caught “Juuling” in the bathrooms and locker rooms.
“For a split second, you feel really good,” one anonymous student said. “It makes you feel relaxed and sort of takes all your stress away but only for a second.”
The feeling of taking a hit on a Juul is often described as a short headrush and an intense burning sensation in the throat, noted for best resembling the feel of an actual cigarette out of all the available e-cigarettes.
“Juul” is both the e-cigarette brand, and the name of the metal device used to vaporize the nicotine-containing wax found in the Juul’s cartage, or “Juulpod.” A Juulpod contains 35 mg of nicotine, while a pack of cigarettes contains approximately 20 mg. Each is said to last about the same amount of time: 200 puffs.
Students Juuling–the verb coined for smoking out of a Juul–has become a growing issue for the administration, and Assistant Principal Valerie Arbizu attributes this rise in student drug use to both the recent uptick in tobacco product purchases and the perception that e-cigarettes do not have all of the negative consequences of traditional cigarettes. She went on to explain how the company’s marketing has played a significant role in making the product more attractive.
“They are these shiny, high-tech devices and they match all of the other shiny, high-tech devices, and they don’t look like grandma’s old cigarette,” Arbizu said. “They look like something that may not hurt you as much.”
Arbizu said the administration is well aware of the common “hot spots” on campus for students to “Juul,” and that administrators are actively seeking out students using Juuls and other drugs in the bathrooms and behind the school.
“I think that is part of our job—catch kids doing things that aren’t healthy and aren’t the best decisions and help steer them in a better direction,” Arbizu said.
Another anonymous student explained how often and why they Juul, attributing their continued use no longer to pleasure: “I Juul now because it's an addiction and very hard to stop.”
That student went on to explain, “I normally Juul throughout the entire day … I occasionally Juul at school, but I like to keep it low-key considering it is against the rules.”
There is currently an ongoing debate among physicians over whether nicotine has severe health effects. While the existence of adverse health effects from tobacco based products that contain nicotine is now unanimous in the medical world, some specialists claim that the ingestion of nicotine without tobacco, as is the case with the Juul, is essentially the equivalent of ingesting caffeine concerning its harm to the body. Other physicians claim that nicotine can lead to adverse changes in adolescent brain development and cause damage to the heart, arteries, and lungs. However, no one disputes the fact that nicotine is highly addictive. The core of the debate remains over whether doctors should be worried about addition if it is in the absence of major harm to the body.
Additionally, many Juul users claim several benefits from e-cigarettes—the most commonly cited health benefit being helping cigarette users break their addiction.
“I used to smoke a lot of cigarettes, but after using the Juul, I have cut back a massive amount,” said the previously quoted anonymous student. “I recommend not starting on the Juul unless you are trying to quit smoking cigarettes because it is an addiction that can develop very fast and you can't just quit.”
It is unclear in which grade Juuling is most common. Arbizu said that the issue was largely, though not entirely, limited to the upperclassmen, while senior Tyler Gannon believed the problem was most prevalent among the freshmen boys.
While Arbizu noted a rise in student use of Juuling, she said BHS’ issues regarding substance abuse largely remain with binge drinking. She also said that while issues regarding Juuling and other drug use on campus remain relevant to the administration, they are primarily focused on addressing matters such as cell phone use and online communication.
Arbizu had a final message for students: “Kids are going to try things; they are going to break the rules; they are going to look for gray areas … and, in that process, try and figure out who they are. We want to make sure that you guys are making good decisions.”