Deputy Eric Matejka said he was stunned that so many parents at a recent La Cañada Unified School Board meeting were unfamiliar with the concept of “Juuling,” and unaware of how hot a trend vaping — e-cigarette smoking — has become.
“I haven’t caught a kid with a cigarette in years,” said Matejka, the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’ Station’s dedicated resource officer, who spends a lot of time at La Cañada High School. “But the Juuls and the vapes have gotten really big.”
Matejka shared this intelligence with a diverse collective of professionals last week at the Strategic Partners Network meeting hosted by the YMCA and held at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, telling area educators, coaches, administrators, psychologists and business people about the latest in ever-changing vaping trends — daunting developments for those concerned about young people’s well-being.
With show-and-tell presentations like Matejka’s, and reports such as CNN’s last weekend under the headline, “Juul e-cigarettes and teens: Health problem of the decade?,” awareness of the fad is starting to catch on with adults, who have serious catching up to do.
To get them going, on Friday, March 16, Matejka passed around an assortment of vaping devices, including the bulky vapes that are so two years ago, potent but conspicuous.
He also introduced them to disposable vapes that are built to provide 120 hits before they’re defunct.
And he let them get their hands on the more popular, more easily concealable Juuls (which resemble flash drives) and the latest thing — Suorin Drop delivery systems (which look a lot like highlighter pens with their bright or fluorescent exteriors.)
These are commonplace on school campuses such as LCHS and even LCHS 7/8, he said, even though the district has banned them. The devices are confiscated if they’re discovered (the school security officer has a case full of them, Matejka said), but students continue to bring them to campus, often vaping in bathrooms, between classes or even in class.
The fact that they’re so small and that their vapor produces no real smell makes it difficult to detect them, said Ryan Serna, the leader of youth development with YMCA of the Foothills.
Even though he and his colleagues checked every hotel room during a recent YMCA trip, they found it impossible to determine if someone inside had been vaping.
“We’ve gone into every single room and you can’t smell anything,” Serna said. “Sometimes it smells like hand lotion, or it smells sweet, but it’s not something that really has an odor. It’s definitely something very easy to conceal if kids are trying to.”
Matejka said kids tell him they like the vape flavors; Juul’s offerings, for example, include “mango,” “fruit medley” and “crème brûlée.”
Even the devices’ designs are targeted at teens, Matejka said.
“They make really beautiful ones,” he said. “As an adult, you don’t want a pink and blue swirly thing, you want something conservative. So they’re making these things colorful for the kids.”
Those kids also say they like the burn they feel in their throats as well as the hit they get from nicotine — “It’s the same satisfaction you would get from a cigarette,” Matejka said.
Young people can substitute marijuana liquids for nicotine liquids, although Matejka said he hasn’t encountered many instances of that on the LCHS campus (where drug-sniffing dogs would detect an illicit substance such as THC but wouldn’t react to regular vaping liquid).
Beyond ill-advised exposure to nicotine and THC, Matejka said he understands that vaping itself is considered potentially harmful.
“There’s a lot out there proving that it’s dangerous to your health,” he said. “When they test the stuff, different chemicals come from the coils that are heating the chemicals up. It’s the heating element, the carcinogens [that] could cause damage to your lungs.”
It’s against California law to sell e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 21, but resourceful young consumers can find ways to get them, Matejka assured. Sometimes they get them from older friends, other times by buying a T-shirt online and receiving the vape with it as a “free gift.”
Visitors to the Juul website are asked to proclaim that they’re 21 or older before proceeding and the company reportedly urges consumers to report suspicious sales to its email@example.com email address.
But at $50 for a starter kit, its products are, as CNN reported, considered relatively affordable for young clientele in affluent communities, where the trend appears most prevalent.
A Sourin Drop starter kit can be purchased for $35 on the company’s website (after entering a birthdate on a 21-and-older disclaimer), with replacement cartridges available for $6 and liquid refills (called “BlowSauce” and available in flavors such as “grape pixie stick” and “strawberry taffy”) available for $24. Various online retailers offer those same items at discounted prices.
Matejka said he hopes additional education will help temper the habit among kids, as might additional strategies being considered by both the city of LCF and LCUSD.
Serna said he hopes positive, vaping-free alternatives, such as those presented by the YMCA, will help, too.
“We’ve gone out of our way to make sure that they know that if you bring any of that stuff, we’re going to have to send you home,” Serna said. “We try to create that environment where we can have a good time, and you can do it without those things, so when they do go back they’re like, ‘We don’t need that.’”