Capital Region schools cope with juuling craze

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Some people are calling it the health problem of the decade — and it’s running rampant among Capital Region teenagers. Many parents know nothing about it.

You may have heard of vaping, but what about a juul? Would you be able to spot one in a backpack? Do you even know how one works?

Chances are your kids know all about them — or think they do. The juul is exploding in popularity. What your kids don’t know — could lead to a lifetime of addiction.

Juuls can be hard to spot, because they look more like a tech toy than a nicotine delivery system. The next-gen vaping device is sleek and easily concealed with interchangeable, disposable, flavored pods. It’s fueling a whole new kind of nicotine craze among teenagers.

"I feel like it’s an ocean wave coming at us and trying to stop that," noted Dr. Michael Johnson, the principal at Stillwater High School.

He is dealing with the same problem that’s facing educators across the region. In a recent survey of his student body, 24 percent admitted to using juuls or other vape products regularly — and often right in a classroom.

"Some parents — their eyes are this big. They had no idea," pointed out Johnson.

Unlike unmistakable cigarette smoke, juuls give off sweet-smelling vapor that quickly dissipates or can be totally concealed in a sweatshirt.

First introduced as a less toxic alternative to smoking, kids seem convinced juuls are safe for them to use, despite being loaded with nicotine.

"They actually even advertise this. One pod is to them equivalent to one pack of cigarettes," disclosed Jacob Looman from Vapor Geekz in Clifton Park.

He was forthcoming about the concentrated nicotine and other chemicals found in juul pods.

"I think it’s very real," worried toxicologist Dr. Adam Rowden.

He says it’s a dangerous combination for teenagers.

"Young brains enjoy that fix initially, then it becomes something that they sort of need to feel normal. So, I really feel it’s feeding a possible lifelong addiction," he warned.

One part of the problem is a lack of education. Looman says he’s had to give some parents a crash course.

"More and more parents are coming in trying to buy this stuff for their kids," he noted.

"I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for us to get on top of this," admitted Dr. Johnson.

He has developed a presentation for students and parents — even principals at other districts and is coordinating efforts with the Prevention Council of Saratoga County.

"The juul device has been called the iPhone of vaporizers," noted Patty Kilgore with The Saratoga County Prevention Council.

While it’s illegal to sell juuls or vapes to kids, it’s not illegal for kids to have them — or use them.

Patty Kilgore says the whole e-cig industry is largely unregulated and that manufacturers — including big tobacco — are not wasting any time marketing to kids to bolster their bottom line for years to come.

"So during this period of time when it’s really not regulated or there’s minimal regulations, this is the time that they’re really trying to expose a lot of people to get them addicted so that even when the regulations come in, they’re already using the product," she explained.

NewsChannel 13 took an unscientific poll of schools throughout the Capital Region. Albany and Schenectady said juuls and vaping are not common among students, while suburban school districts said it’s extremely common.

New York state has taken steps regarding e-cig regulations — banning them from public places and schools, much like the ban on cigarettes.

More information:

NY Senate bill for prohibiting the sale and distribution of flavored e-liquid for use in e-cigarettes

NY Senate bill to help curb electronic cigarette use among minors