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Teens Who Vape: Who Are They?

High School. A time when many of us try new things. One of those things is vaping or “Juuling.” In the past three years, I have seen a big increase in the number of friends and classmates who vape or “Juul.” I hear so much about how vaping is a huge problem, but never about the teens themselves. For that reason, I set out to find high schoolers from the Sandy Springs-Dunwoody area who were willing to share their unique stories and experiences about vaping. I interviewed six upperclassmen with GPAs ranging from 3.5 to 4.5, involved in sports or other school activities, who use at least one brand of vape, the most popular, Juul.

To protect their privacy, we have changed their names and other identifying information.

High School. A time when many of us try new things. One of those things is vaping or “Juuling.” In the past three years, I have seen a big increase in the number of friends and classmates who vape or “Juul.” I hear so much about how vaping is a huge problem, but never about the teens themselves. For that reason, I set out to find high schoolers from the Sandy Springs-Dunwoody area who were willing to share their unique stories and experiences about vaping. I interviewed six upperclassmen with GPAs ranging from 3.5 to 4.5, involved in sports or other school activities, who use at least one brand of vape, the most popular, Juul.

To protect their privacy, we have changed their names and other identifying information.

Amanda is a senior. Her GPA is 4.3 and she is part of student government. She uses a Juul and a Sourin, and blows through a pod in two to three days.

Jamie, a junior, rides horseback and has a 4.1 GPA. She’s used Juul, Suorin and Smok, and goes through a pack of pods (4 pods) in a week.

Zach, also a junior, has a 4.2 GPA, and participates in theater. He uses a Juul, and uses a pack a week.

Ron, a junior, has a 4.5 GPA and plays varsity sports. He has a Juul, but rarely uses it.

Adam is a senior with a 3.5 GPA and is on a mock trial team. He has a Juul, and only uses it with friends.

Here are their stories:

AJT: What/when was your first experience with vaping?

Maria: I was at a party about a year ago, and was offered it, and it wasn’t bad. I started vaping myself only a few months ago.

Amanda: During my sophomore year, I started to notice that older kids were using it, but they were mostly boys, and none of my close friends were involved. Halfway through junior year, one of my best friends got a vaping device. I started vaping after she started because she enjoyed it and was talking about how great it was. It wasn’t even peer pressure; I just wanted to, like everyone else was enjoying it.

Ron: The first time I used one was at a party during sophomore year. I was sitting next to my friend, and I asked him if I could try it and I did.

AJT: Is vaping harmful?

Amanda: Yes, just because in order for the liquid to be able to vaporize without it [the Juul] being so hot, there have to be chemicals we don’t know much about in it. But honestly, I think that smoking regular cigarettes is worse because of the tar. I still think Juuling is bad, and I don’t recommend it.

Zach: Yes, but like at the same time, I don’t really care. For me, I know it’s bad because I’ve been told you can get diseases like popcorn lung. There’s also a bunch of chemicals like glycol and stuff that we don’t really know what they are, and we’re inhaling them, and that’s gross.

Ron: Yeah, I don’t know the exact [reason], but it’s not good for your lungs. It probably has some kind of effect if you use it a lot, and for me, at least, I barely use it. Also, if vaping wasn’t harmful it would be legal for everyone to use it. I’ve just kind of accepted that.

Adam: Yeah, it’s probably pretty harmful because you can get addicted to nicotine. I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing to do long term.

AJT: Why do you vape if you know it’s harmful? Would you stop? Why haven’t you?

Maria: I try to keep my usage low, and I’ve only just started vaping, so I haven’t thought about stopping really.

Amanda: I’ve tried to stop, and over the summer I stopped for a few weeks, but honestly, I’m addicted to nicotine. Like if I don’t have it, I think about it all the time.

Jamie: I haven’t really tried. My whole thing is like, honestly, I kinda wanna stop, but I feel like vaping will start to be lame and then I’ll stop then, before it’s gonna be bad enough to affect me.

Ron: I know it’s very harmful, but I limit myself heavily by not using it often, and I gave it away when I thought I used it too much.

AJT: Do your parents know? What would they think if they found out?

Amanda: Yes, my mom found it before. She was very mad and took it away. But I bought a new one the next day.

Jamie: They don’t; they’d probably take away my car, which isn’t really worth it. But also, they don’t know what it is, so the chances of that happening are pretty low.

Zach: They have in the past; they think I’ve stopped, but like I obviously haven’t. They searched my room for like an hour and found literally everything and threw it away. I just bought new stuff.

AJT: Do you have any concerns about addiction?

Jamie: I’ve never felt myself having symptoms after being away from it; it’s more of like an emotional want.

Zach: Oh, for sure, but I don’t really care. I feel like I’m not super-energized, and I feel like I definitely could not work out if I haven’t had it [my vape] in 24 hours, so yeah I physically need it to survive.

Ron: Yeah, I’m pretty worried about that, but I know that I’m gonna stop myself before I get to that point. When I first started, I guess I was a little worried so that’s why I limit myself. It’s just against my morals.

Adam: I’m not worried because I have pretty good self-control since I’ve had it for about a month or so and I basically only use it on the weekends.

AJT: Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to limit the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products to teens, and Juul announced its ban of in-store sales of flavored pods, except for Virginia tobacco, tobacco, mint and menthol. Do you think these measures will affect your or other’s vaping habits?

Maria: No, because Juul still offers other flavors like mint, and people will still use them. I already use the mint flavor, so I’ll just continue to use that.

Amanda: No, because the day I actually found that out, I bought a Suorin device instead. I don’t think that one product will change anything. Now when I see people vaping, someone always has a new device that I haven’t seen before.

Ron: No. That’s not gonna change anything. Like, I went with my friend to get some Juul pods. He asked the guy selling stuff about the ban, and he just told us about off-brand pods you can buy that are the exact same. Juul may lose some customers, but there are so many different brands of pods, and people use other products like Suorin.

What I learned from this research is that there are two types of teens who vape: those who do it with friends and on weekends and those who have become or are becoming addicted and tend to use it quite often. I didn’t  include all my questions and answers. For instance, I asked if they would consider smoking. They all replied “no” because of the smell and the dangers that have been associated with smoking. But vaping is a very new thing, and I’m curious to see what happens in the future.

Atlanta Jewish Times/Charlotte Morrison

Charlotte Morrison is a senior in high school and plans to major in journalism. As a part of an independent study program, she is completing a six-week internship at the AJT.