He vapes in school. He vapes at home. He’s addicted, and he knows it.
He is a high school student from Westport. His father asked for anonymity. But he wants his son’s story told.
Vaping — using e-cigarettes — is a national phenomenon. It’s a $6 billion a year industry, growing at an annual rate of 42%.
It’s happening under the noses — literally — of adults.
Part of the reason is that the devices don’t look like cigarettes. There are many ways to vape. Most popular now are pen-shaped rechargeable devices. A refillable tank holds a pod with a liquid flavor compound. The liquid — which may contain nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavorings — is vaporized by a heating element. Aerosol delivers a buzz to the user.
“Juuling” — named for the most popular e-cigarette — is particularly easy to hide. Juuls look like USB devices (and can be charged via USB ports). In the eternal cat-and-mouse game that pits teenagers against adults, Juuls are particularly innocuous-looking. And there is no distinctive smell.
That’s how some youngsters vape in school. And in their parents’ cars.
The Westport teenager was introduced to vaping several months ago. Since then, his grades have gone downhill. He’s lost interest in his favorite activities. All he cares about, his father says, is making sure he has his Juuls, and when he can vape next.
There are at least 2 convenience stores in Westport that sell easily, willingly and happily to minors, the father says. (As with tobacco cigarettes, it’s illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors.)
His son’s addiction is so strong, the father notes, that he spent money from holiday gift cards on Juuls. “Planning, preparing and sneaking are now his main focus,” the father says. “He believes his own lies.
“This happened pretty fast. He never gave us a problem. He’s a friendly kid, popular. He liked sports and music.”
The father knows that not every teenager who vapes gets addicted. “Some kids can do it once a week. But this nicotine really caught him.”
His wife has found “hundreds” of pods hidden around their home. One pod lasts his son 3 days.
His son asked his father to buy Juuls for him. “He wanted cucumber flavors,” the man says. “What are they putting in their mouths?”
“I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about this,” he says. “I know this is not just a Westport problem. It’s all over.”
Some parents, he says, “sweep it under the rug. They don’t want to admit their kid is Juuling.” Others have no clue. “My own kid probably charged it on his laptop, right under my nose,” he admits.
Staples High School principal James D’Amico is well aware of the problem. Administrators talk with PTA and staff members about it. They get questions about how vaping relates to the no-smoking policy (it’s included — and students have been suspended for violations).
The school is preparing a statement that includes signs for parents and staff to look for. In addition, security guards and grade level assistants are increasing their monitoring of bathrooms.
However, D’Amico notes, “the hideability, and the use of social media to set up places to meet means we’re playing whack-a-mole.”
The principal adds, “We can’t solve this as a school alone. It needs to be a partnership with parents and the community.”
Meanwhile, the father of the high school student says, “I’m worried what happens if he gets bored with this. Where does it lead — opioids? This is a good kid. He’s smart. He’s fun. But he’s ruining his health, his body and his mind.”