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Special Report: Mountain students say vaping a growing trend among peers

The JUUL is advertised as an adult alternative to cigarettes, but News 13 found it’s quite popular among local teens. The vaporizer is smaller than a pen, easy to conceal, and charges via USB. (Photo Credit: WLOS Staff).

Vaping is a growing trend among teens. Some local students say they see their peers doing it in the classroom.

Many are using a specific device that’s easy to hide. It’s called the JUUL and it hit the market in 2015.

It's advertised as an adult alternative to cigarettes, but News 13 found it’s quite popular among local teens. The vaporizer is smaller than a pen, easy to conceal, and charges via USB.

High schooler Jeff Morgan is 18, so he can legally buy the JUUL. He says some of his underage classmates are vaping, too.

"I walk into the bathroom and there's kids in there juuling,” Morgan said.

Other local students tell News 13 they see it happen in the classroom.

"A lot of people actually will, like, put it up their sweatshirt arm and like do it in class, and like blow smoke under the table,” one teen described.

The Department of Health and Human Services says more than 16 percent of North Carolina High Schoolers are using e-cigarettes.

John Kelly Douglas sees his peers vaping, but he's working to educate them about the dangers of it through a statewide, non-profit called Youth Empowered Solutions.

"I probably see it five times a day,” Douglas said. “Where people are doing it in class. Every time I go in a bathroom, someone's vaping or smoking,” he added.

Health Program Manager Alice Elio works with students in Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools. She said peer education is at the forefront of action to reduce the number of teens who get hooked on e-cigarettes.

"Peer pressure is huge in the teen years. We don't want this to become something that everybody is doing,” Elio said. "It has been proven to be a gateway to smoking," she added.

Researching the long-term effects will take time, but healthcare professionals know one thing for sure right now - the nicotine in devices like the JUUL is not good for development.

"We don't want nicotine in a brain under the age of 25," Elio said.

The JUUL company makes it clear its product is not for minors. In a statement to News 13, they say the age of purchasing the device on the company website has been raised to 21.

JUUL Labs' mission is to eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. We condemn the use of our product by minors. We are fully committed to dramatically reducing the incidence of young people using JUUL. We are investing in significant resources and personnel to aggressively combat the issue of underage use.
We strongly oppose and actively discourage the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors. No minor should be in the possession of a JUUL. That’s why we raised the age of purchasing JUUL on our website to age 21. To further combat underage use, JUUL Labs is focused on education, enforcement, and partnership with others who are working on this issue, including lawmakers, educators and our business partners.
We are committed to increasing the dialogue around the dangers of nicotine use in adolescents. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate and engage with parents and educators and encourage them to email us at youthprevention@juul.com. - JUUL Labs

The appeal of breaking the law may be why some teens are finding other avenues.

"I mean, that might be part of the appeal is that they know it's illegal, and they just kind of want to stick it to the man," Morgan said.

On Saturday, February 17, Youth Empowered Solutions is hosting a free youth training event in Asheville. The goal is to help teens advocate for e-cigarette policy change in the community. If you are interested in attending the event, you can register here or contact Gabby Fricke by phone 908-442-5769 or email: gabrielle@youthempoweredsolutions.org.

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