The Reusable Cigarette

April 30, 2019

Push not pull. Bell rings. Wipe your feet on the matt and walk to the front.

“What flavors do you have?”

“We got mint, mango, creme brulee, and fruit medley”

“Mmmm. I’ll get four of your mint please.”

“That will be $25. May I see your ID?”

 

Cigarettes are bad. Don’t smoke cigarettes. This is the message that has been implanted in teenagers heads since we were little. That cigarettes kill and that we should never come close to those smelly, toxic, cancer making sticks. The sticks that took our parents generation by storm. Everywhere you looked, someone was smoking. Whether in the bathroom, the designated smoking area, or at the lunch tables, high schoolers were smoking. Whether it was to cope or to just look cool, people smoked a pack a day regularly. Fortunately, as science has progressed, we have found out how deadly these cigarettes really are. But you can’t blame anyone back then; they didn’t know better. And as these very same people send their own kids to high school, they worry their kids are going down the same disastrous path, not with cigarette smoking, but by hitting the Juul. It’s sleek and small, easy to hide. It’s colorful, flavorful, and lacks the bad smell, the ashes, the second-hand smoke. And it’s getting a new generation addicted to nicotine.

The red edition of the Juul vaporizer. Many students are attracted to the different color variants.

What can be bad about the Juul? It doesn’t have rat poison so what is wrong with it? Besides the addictive nicotine, many people have struggled to find the negative effects of Juuling, just like in the early years of cigarettes. The many parallels between these two epidemics beg the question: Is Juuling just the new smoking?

 

Junior Will Taylor thinks not. When asked to compare the smoking and Juuling cultures, he told us, “I don’t think they’re comparable at all because it was much more open to smoke cigarettes when my parents were in high school. You didn’t have to hide anything. Now there’s such a culture of secrecy with Juuling. They have to hide it more.”

 

And Juul has made it easy to hide. It is sleek and futuristic; it has been deemed the iPhone of tobacco products. It is the perfect device for adult smokers looking to quit. But according to Ken Warner, a Professor Emeritus of Public Health at the University of Michigan, it is impossible to make a drug product that is appealing to adults and not youth.

 

Hence, a new generation is becoming addicted to nicotine. Just when everyone thought that the end of tobacco products was nearing, Juul broke into the market and disrupted the entire tobacco scene.

 

According to the FDA, there was a 78 percent rise in high school usage of e-cigarettes in 2018. According to Marin Academy students, the problem is just as prominent here. Jack Whitescarver, a senior at Marin Academy, thinks the problem is worse in the Bay Area than in other parts of the country. And Ainsley Walker, a senior too, thinks it is a problem at MA: “I think a good amount of people Juul. Are they endangering their health? Maybe not right now. Are they breaking the law? Yes. So in that way, it’s a problem. Are they endangering their place at the school? Probably. So I guess yes it’s a problem and a lot of people get away with it.”


According to an expert in the field who is closely connected to Juul, but requested to remain anonymous, it makes sense that MA has a problem with Juuling. His studies found that the more affluent the community, the more likely students are to Juul.

 

Maybe, as Will Taylor thinks, this is because the addiction is extremely expensive: “It is just a complete waste of money, and we don’t even know the effects yet.” Packs of four Juul pods cost between $25 and $30 dollars in the Bay Area, so when some teenagers are going through a pack a week, it ceases to be the cost-effective alternative Juul advertises.

 

Maybe it appears in affluent communities because those parents generally aren’t around as much, as our expert believes. He tells us he is frustrated that parents blame Juul for the ‘epidemic.’ He says it is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children strong values before they are old enough to encounter drug usage; Juul is just creating a product.

 

But it is difficult for parents to teach their children about such a nebulous product as Juul. By talking amongst the MA student community, it becomes apparent that most parents’ opinions on Juuling are rarely trusted.

 

Senior Jack Whitescarver told me, “I think a lot of adults are misinformed. Basically every adult I’ve spoken to about it has been misinformed and has misconstrued the effects. I don’t think I’ve been able to have a productive conversation about Juuling with an adult. I would be very open to having a discussion about it if they knew what they were talking about and weren’t biased. They say ‘oh it’s as bad as cigarettes’ and that’s just objectively not true based on what we know so far. If parents had a more open mind, I would be more willing to take their advice.”

 

It seems as if communication between parents and students regarding Juuling has broken down. Sanjai Moses is working every day to rebuild that relationship. As a Human Development teacher, she teaches students to attain self-advocacy regarding “relationships, communication, drugs and alcohol, sex and sexuality, consent, ethics, identity, and social justice.”

 

As the bridge between parents and students on this specific issue, she receives a lot of concerns, such as “parents calling me and saying, what are you gonna do about this Juuling problem?”

 

Sanjai has a personal connection to the material she teaches, too. She has her own experience with tobacco products, and feels slighted by Big Tobacco: “I sort of feel like my generation got scammed because a big portion of my friend group became addicted to smoking cigarettes in eighth and ninth grade and we all smoked throughout high school and we got up to smoking about a pack a day. And I smoked from the time I was in eighth grade until I was 29 years old. And that ain’t no joke. Like that is not healthy.” This experience has made her afraid that the next generation is falling victim in the same way: “You guys got the message that tobacco products and nicotine were terrible for you and that smoking caused cancer and that you will die. You guys got that message really clear, right? There’s so much anti-tobacco education for you guys. You guys grow up in a world where it was like, oh my God, smoking’s terrible, but then you Juul.” Sanjai doesn’t seem to see as large of a distinction between Juuling and smoking as the MA students did.

 

In the Human Development classes that Sanjai teaches, she is shocked by the difference in student opinion of Juuling and smoking. She tells us that in class, she “we do have an agree/disagree game that says, ‘using Juul better for you than smoking cigarettes,’ and everybody agrees with that. We also have one that says, ‘smoking’s pre-rolled cigarettes is bad for you.’ Everyone agrees with that. So it’s interesting. I get the sense that they think that it’s just that Juul was invented to help people kick the habit. It’s just so funny to me.”

 

Obviously, Sanjai doesn’t think it was designed to help people ‘kick the habit.’ She believes it was created to and has succeeded at getting a new generation addicted to tobacco products.

 

Maybe Sanjai isn’t a doctor, but students tend to trust her, and for good reason. Out of all adults on campus, Sanjai has the best grasp on the trials of teenage life, having taught them for over 20 years. She reminds us and her classes of impressionable students, “It’s hard to be a high schooler. It’s hard to be a teenager and we all find different ways to cope with the crap that life serves us.” Juuling is one of those ways. And because of how connected the world is today, a product like Juul has been able to thrive in an affluent, fun-loving community such as MA.

Mango and Mint flavored pods. The old packages (left) lacked the now required nicotine warning shown on the Mint package (right).

A senior in this community, Sean Sweeny, has seen how Juul culture has evolved,“ it begins as kind of a social thing, especially when it first began, it was like this new cool thing that kids wanted to try and the older kids are using it”. Just like anything in high school, if the ‘cool kids’ are doing it, you should do it too. As a lot of upperclassmen started using and discovering this new product, everybody followed suit: “I think at its pinnacle it was probably like 60 or 70 percent”. Sean believed that over half the school population was using Juul at some point. Although there are no definite numbers or percentages, 20 out of 20 kids who were asked if they knew someone who Juuled replied with “yes”. But Sean has seen a decline in usage as fear of the effects increases: “I think kids recognize that it’s not great for you and are trying to move away from it. I think at a certain point, once you’ve moved past the social point, kids start to recognize that and go away from it.”

 

Eric Sachleben, a senior, agrees with Sean about the decrease in use. When asked how bad the problem of Juuling is at MA, he responded, “it’s interesting because if you were to ask me that last year, I would say it was worse. But I haven’t seen it recently. I could be misinformed, but I haven’t seen it as much.”

 

Despite this decrease in use, Sean has seen many kids at MA become addicted and not be able to quit. Even with health detriments, some kids can’t resist, just as many couldn’t with cigarettes, as they were hooked in by Big Tobacco. Sean and many others are concerned by the possibility of repeating history: “just looking historically I would say it’s a little bit suspicious that [Juul] did very similar things that the other cigarette companies did.” With Altria, a Tobacco company, now owning 35 percent of Juul, many have become suspicious as to whether these Tobacco companies are targeting youth with Juul just as they did with cigarettes.

 

It’s possible that this is the case. Although highly unethical, it would have been one of the best business moves in history, as Juul is now valued at nearly $40 billion. It does call into question, however, the responsibility of corporations to promote the greater good. Juul has given Americans an opportunity to ponder the role of a company in a capitalist economy. Should corporations be inherently moral beings? Do they owe it to the public to regulate their own ethics? Or will the market punish immoral businesses?

 

The American consensus seems to be that Juul should regulate themselves. They are almost forced to, because of the FDA’s shocking lack of regulations on new-age tobacco products and vaporizers.

 

Juul has made major strides in the past year in their campaign against underage use. They have spent millions lobbying state governments to raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21, and have issued over 1000 takedown notices on less regulated counterfeit products.

 

Whether you think that Juul is solving the problem of combustible cigarettes or they are targeting youth and getting a new generation addicted to nicotine, it is undeniable that this has been one of the most interesting social experiments of our generation. We have been able to examine how relationships, companies, and schools act in the face of addiction. And we will have to wait and see what the real consequences of an ‘innocent,’ flavored vaporizer will have on this generation.

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