Vaping: One Westporter’s Story

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.

A variety of vaping devices. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“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.

Juul being charged on a laptop. (Photo courtesy of Staples High School collaborative team)

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.”

Juul pods: empty (left) and full.

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.”

28 responses to “Vaping: One Westporter’s Story

  1. Thank you for sharing…This is a serious problem that requires equally serious attention. It is said that nicotine is more difficult to “kick” than heroin. The dad’s words,— ““Planning, preparing and sneaking are now his main focus,” the father says. “He believes his own lies.” —show that his son is a true addict. My son works as an admissions counselor at a substance abuse recovery center, and he says now they admit many people who are hooked on vaping.

    • Vaping/ E-cigarettes ; can be like smoking a Glade Freshener. JUUL is the nicotine version (see http://www.juulvapor.com). The industry is completely unregulated, items are purchased on the internet (“internationally sourced” means made in China where there is less to no regulation) , and there is no formal labeling of ingredients (some have been found to contain silica, heavy metals). The FDA has been “thinking about ” regulating the industry. This isn’t rocket science: e-cigarettes ranging from nicotine based JUUL brand or over the counter “flavors” range from unhealthy to poisonous. Recently, the Economist (of all publications) had one of the most mis-informed articles on the subject of e-cigarettes. It lacked journalistic integrity and should have been labeled an opinion article written by a frequent e-cigarette user. The point is..there is incomplete information and a good deal of intentional BAD information in the public domain often put forth by sources that have one objective; sell more e-cigarettes and make more money. Now that nicotine comes in a sexy “E cigarette” version (JUUL) does not mean it is any less addictive. Keep your kids close, keep them safe, and keep them from becoming “users”.

  2. This is a serious problem! More education to kids about the dangers. Much more severe consequences at school when caught. Cameras all over the school to catch kids. This needs to be stopped!

    • Hi Merri…it’s so hard for the schools though as these vapes are very easily hidden. And if they aren’t using them at school, they are using them everywhere else. Short of searching the kids as they enter the school every day, I’m not sure how the school can stop it.

  3. Thank you Dan and Anonymous Parent. This is a huge problem. Along with the opioid epidemic, Westport Parents, teachers, administrators, elected officials need to understand this problem is NOT GOING AWAY.
    I attended an opioid lecture last month at the senior center. To my disappointment besides myself, fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, and State Representative Jonathan Stienberg, there was no attendance from any member of our Board of Education, or parents. The average age of the audience was 75!
    It scares me that our priorities on this issue seems to be a bit askew. Last year in Connecticut 9 times more people died from drug overdose then guns. Yes 9 times more? Drugs lead to guns.
    I have been in contact and working with Officer Ned Batlin our DARE officer. We need to the “TRIPLE PLAY” of Parents, School Administrators, and Law Enforcement to get on the same page with a concrete plan to educate and enforce before we start losing more kids to addiction and drug overdose.
    I was at a funeral of a friends nephew 2 summers ago and she said to me, “Jimmy, he was a good kid, unfortunately his addiction started somewhere, be it marijuana, booze,…it started somewhere.”
    This vaping thing is another gateway to a road that doesn’t discriminate. I hope future lectures will produce as many parents as our school budget meetings do.

    • I agree that we need to “ educate and enforce,” But I’m confused as to why the presentation was held at the Senior Crenter? I would think that was why few people attended under age 75…. There should be information sessions at the Town Hall as welll as built into admin, teacher, and school social worker/counselor meetings. (In fact, maybe the latter could help work with people in the town…) As a former teacher I have seen how quickly kids latch on to whatever they perceive as the newest, “coolest” trend, but vaping is a bit more serious than playing with a fidget spinner…

    • Hey, Jimmy,

      The reason why the program was held at the Senior Center is that it was a Senior Center program. It was initiated by the center specifically to raise awareness among the chronologically gifted where addiction is being seen also. The League is presently working on this issue and are in the beginning stages of co-sponsoring panels for targeted audiences in the not too distant future.
      Stay tuned and when we have dates, please help us disseminate that information.

      Best,
      Mrs. P
      PS there was at least one BOE member present that day.
      P

      • “chronologically gifted?” Oh please… If we’re old, we’re old. This use of euphemisms has gotten really silly!

        • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

          Dale, does that not mean you are chronologically deprived because you are young? Are fat people not calorically advantaged? The situation is silly but I’m absurdity gifted. So there!!!!

  4. Thank you so much for opening up about this! What scares me most as a parent is the planning, the sneaking, and the spending. My middle schooler is like that with videogames. I know he thinks about them all the time. And, like you said, what’s next? This is a wake up call for me. I need to have an honest conversation and make some changes.

  5. Elisabeth- we are trying. I think last year there was a presentation at Town Hall on opioids. We need a concrete objective and plan. Right now it’s not a priority. My worst fear is that it will take a tragedy before we wake up and make this as much a priority as funding our schools.

  6. The inescapable issue here is NICOTINE a known addictive drug that is unregulated and legal. Tobacco was focused on as a killer but the NICOTINE is what caused addiction. Now anyone…anyone…can buy numerous ways to deliver the NICOTINE; Vaping, Lozenges, Patches, or directly…yes you can buy pure nicotine online…cheaply!. I know people that after quitting smoking now spend thousands of dollars a year feeding their addiction to nicotine…for decades. The excuse is; at least i’m not going to die from smoking. Nicotine is considered harmless, how is that possible, it’s addictive. Isn’t that enough reason to regulate it? Why is nicotine unregulated: “follow the money”.
    We are all just human and get “addicted” to the things we enjoy but when that pleasure is woven with a known addictive substance it is irresponsible for a society not to address it. This is a non-partisan issue, it’s not about government regulation it’s about protecting its citizens…our children. Once you are addicted it’s too late. Let’s stop addiction at its core; education with legislation to at least protect our children if not ourselves.
    Lastly for those who say we should have the self-discipline not to get addicted you need to get educated in neuroscience. We are creatures of habit. My sympathies for those with loved ones who are suffering the consequences.

    • I just wanted to clarify that I’m not advocating another failed “war on drugs”, I’m advocating constraints on the legitimate businesses selling addictive drugs.i.e NICOTINE. That much we can regulate/legislate/educate without any problem.

  7. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    A really good call to reality for all of us. So, with the rapid growth of vaping, legalized marijuana, crystal meth, opiod overprescribing and the classic street drugs such as heroin that are all so easy to obtain, the ways and means of getting high and then addicted have never been so plentiful. The term “High Society” has finally been repurposed among the masses. There are multiple root causes, I’m sure but I’m not sure that we’ll be able to “handle the truth” when we get to the bottom of the problem.

  8. Eric and Mark you get it! This has the potential to be worse then the Harlem Heroin epidemic in the early 1970’s.

    • Jimmy – The heroin epidemic (include fentanyl) already is worse, for a number of reasons. As for the absence of parents at the senior center event, many parents of Westport students have attended other such events or are otherwise well-informed about the oxy-heroin pathway at this point, and many of us have been pushing back on oxy-prescribing doctors for years now. (I have personally done so with my son when he had surgery to repair a collarbone fracture).

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s gotten out of control at the high school. Kids are taking “hits” off their vapes when teachers turn their backs to the class! You could never do that with a cigarette!! It’s so hard for the schools though. What can they do? This definitely is a problem that needs to be addressed as a community but I don’t know what the answers are.

  10. Nicotine addiction is very real for our children and very damaging. My son has been vaping for three years and his health is suffering. Bronchitis. Upper Respiratory Infection. Bloody Nose. The sad truth is that he cannot stop vaping. These companies that manufacture the devices and those that distribute/sell to teens are pushing this addiction and they need to be held accountable. Parents are not understanding that vaping is not fruit flavor liquids. Our kids think this is a joke. They vape in class under their shirts, in the bathrooms, share their Juuls with each other. THIS IS A REAL HEALTH ISSUE

  11. They have also been known to blow up in users faces.

  12. Jack- glad to hear parents are informed. I do feel we need to do more. Thanks for information.

    • We can ALL do more, and that includes not accepting oxy scripts ourselves where they don’t appear to be necessary. Less oxy in the medicine cabinet makes it less likely our kids will get into it, and then there is the adult-addiction-to-oxy problem that is also quite prevelant here. But it takes vigilance – I have done battle myself with my own doctors over the last few years regarding their insistence that I take an oxy scrip after a procedure. They seem to be programmed to prescribe the stuff.

      • Physicians and pharmacists need to be re-educated, constantly.
        So many MDs today are duped by their patients.
        Plus, too many MDs today refuse to retire before they begin making mistakes.

  13. I think a general statement about Positive Directions, the services provided to the community, and that we are in the midst of conducting a needs assessment concerning substance misuse in the community, including vaping by youth. We would welcome community members’ involvement in helping to plan and implement effective strategies to address alcohol, tobacco, and drug misuse – something like that. CAth

  14. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Whatever you do, don’t become a vapist.

  15. I saw a young teen get turned down for a purchase because he was too young. The look on his face spoke volumes. He was jittery, and his voice was desperate as he asked, “are you sure you won’t sell to me?” Very sad. I know an ex smoker who is also very addicted and he tried giving vape up. On his third day without it he gave in. He said that was the worst day of his life. Very happy you posted this story, Dan! I hope people take heed and realize the seriousness of this health crisis.

  16. Hi Mr. Woog,
    I take the radio production class at Staples along with Jack Lyme and Michael Thibodeau. After reading this article we were inspired to go on 90.3 and give our own thoughts on the issue. Here is the link to our broadcast, we hope you enjoy! https://soundcloud.com/wwpt-90-3-fm-westport/zach-jackson-mike-vaping-6-billion-a-year-industry-an-open-discussion

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