SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Marin County school leaders are trying to crack down on the latest craze: “Juuling” is running rampant across local schools.
“A JUUL is to an electronic nicotine device, as like an iPhone is to a smartphone,” said Redwood High School Teacher Jonathan Hirsch.
Students tell KPIX that the thin, sleek, high-tech-looking devices started sneaking into schools in 2015 and now their popularity has exploded.
“It’s ridiculous. There’s tons of JUULs everywhere you go, even in the hallways, going into the bathrooms, in class,” said one junior at Tamalpais High School.
JUULs are supposed to be sold to ages 21 and up in California but a Tamalpais student said the San Francisco-based company wasn’t all that strict until recently.
“They just changed it up. Before, you could buy one online and get it shipped to your house,” the student explained.
JUUL Labs was started by a couple former smokers and one of their spokespeople told KPIX 5 that the devices are intended to be a way for adults to get over their cigarette addiction.
One JUUL pod has about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Some students who said they would never smoke cigarettes are now hooked to JUUL.
Hirsch said this addiction is taking over a lot of students’ lives.
“They described the sleepless nights, the headaches, the irritability and all the symptoms we associate with withdrawal from drugs and I don’t think any of them expected to deal with that from Juuling,” said Hirsch.
According to a Truth Initiative Study, 63 percent of students don’t even know there’s nicotine in a JUUL pod.
“You hear students texting each other, ‘Do you have a pod? Do you have a pod?’ There’s a sign of desperation which is an obvious sign of addiction,” said project coordinator for the Coalition Connection, Linda Henn.
In his classes, Hirsch is telling his students they’re falling for the same marketing strategies of past generations.
“This is the modern reincarnation of Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man,” he said.
The health effects may still not be fully known, but Dr. Stanton Glantz, with UCSF’s Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education said there is plenty to be concerned over with the devices.
“Those ultra-fine particles that you get, are themselves very, very dangerous. And they’re related to heart attacks and they’re related to lung disease,” said Glantz.
The American Lung Association says most e-cigarettes and vape pens can cause lungs to scar, creating permanent damage also known as “popcorn lung.”
“These are a lot of times A students or athletes think, ‘It’s not a cigarette, so it’s not bad for my lungs,’” said Hirsch.
“So now we’re all a part of this science experiment waiting to hear what happens when they think it gets to that point when cancers can form,” said Smoke-Free Marin Youth coordinator Jasmine Gerraty.
Many adults who work with students across Marin County said companies like JUUL Labs should take responsibility. And, like cigarettes, they said it’s time these companies stop selling flavored nicotine devices.
The new Tobacco Free California campaign by the California Department of Public Health points out there are 15,500 different flavors available now.
A student at Tamalpais High School said she thinks the flavors should be regulated.
“The flavoring and distribution to minors, I think that’s a big way to solve the problem,” the student said.
In a rare move, the Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to JUUL Labs. Officials are requesting the company show them any research materials that have to do with design, marketing and health impacts.
JUUL Labs has declined numerous KPIX 5 requests for an on-camera interview but they did release a statement in response to the FDA letter saying, in part, “We are working with the FDA, lawmakers, parents and community leaders to combat underage use, and we will continue working with all interested parties to keep our product away from youth.”