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Local Schools On Alert As Vaping Spreads Among Students

A Juul brand e-cigarette starter kit. (Sean Hogan, WTIU/WFIU News)

A slim device that looks like a flash drive is quickly making its way into schools and homes across America.

The device is called a Juul. It’s a popular e-cigarette brand that uses vape pods in appealing flavors such as Cotton Candy, Mango, and Cucumber. 

It’s marketed as an alternative to smoking, but each Juul pod has as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes.

The FDA is labeling vaping an “epidemic” among young people.

It’s a problem Eric Bowlen, Principal of John R. Wooden Middle School, says he deals with regularly.

"The definition of 'epidemic' is too broad," Bolwen says. "But I think that if it impacts one child negatively, that to us is an epidemic as a family. One is too many."

Classes in Martinsville have been in session only a few weeks, but Bowlen says he’s already confiscated two Juuls.

Bowlen says one problem is that the devices are hard to identify.

"I saw a Juul over the summer and it did, it looked exactly like a flash drive," he says. "That would surprise a lot of parents."

A report this year from the Indiana Youth Institute found 15 percent of high school students surveyed used electronic vapor products in the past month. Bowlen says his student face pressure to fit in.

A Juul e-cigarette. School leaders say they are difficult to distinguish from a flash drive. (Sean Hogan, WTIU/WFIU News)

"Students are always looking to fit in, that is the nature of the beast," he says. "It’s even worse than when I was here because of social media. Even though they might have more information they also have more pressure at the same time, and that becomes very difficult to balance."

And that is exactly what Andrew Harmon, a student of Bowlen’s, thought when he heard that Juuls were becoming popular at the high school.

"I know kids they do it over at the high school a lot and I’m afraid it may start here," Harmon says. "And we don’t want that to happen." 

Even though Juuls are less toxic than cigarettes, they’re not toxin free and have a lot of nicotine.

Harmon proposed an idea: if he produced a video that could be played in the student newscast and put on YouTube, he could explain some of the dangers of Juuling.

"It was our first skit we had done for the year,” Harmon says. “So I said, 'Ms. Zimmerman why don’t we do a skit about Juuls?'"

Harmon and a group of classmates did research, contacted local law enforcement and put together their skit.

Bowlen says he applauds Harmon and his teacher for bringing attention to the issue.

Electronic vapor products are the most frequently used tobacco products among Indiana high school students and research shows teens who use Juul devices or e-cigarettes are then more likely to take up cigarette smoking later in life.

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