Hi's Eye

Businesses profit from Juuls

Greta Frontero and Jordan Sacher

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Following the publication of the Jan. 5 Hi’s Eye article on the normalcy of Juuls at WHS and the dangers that experts are aware of, we received a statement from JUUL Labs, the company that owns the product, regarding their stance on underage use.

We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors, and it is in fact illegal to sell our product to minors,” it said. “No minor should be in possession of a JUUL product.”

We took that as an invitation to look further into the adults who are profiting from e-cigarettes. From smoke shops to convenience stores to a nationwide company, there is no shortage of illegal sales to young Juul users. And yet the sales continue.

The JUUL Labs statement went on to say, “Our goal is to further reduce the number of minors who possess or use tobacco products, including vapor products, and to find ways to keep young people from ever trying these products.”

During a phone interview with JUUL Labs, a representative at their headquarters in Beverly Hills, CA, explained that the company has worked to reduce underage Juul use with many initiatives that are currently underway. This representative asked to be neither directly quoted nor identified, but explained some of these initiatives.

According to the representative, who reaffirmed the company’s position against the use of Juuls by minors, JUUL Labs has recruited educational consultants to develop a curriculum to be used in schools in order to inform teachers, parents and students about Juul and other vape products.

Additionally, through the use of a secret shopper program, the company is sending undercover teenagers into retail stores to ensure that identification is always requested where Juul products are sold, the representative said. The rep added that the company’s goal is to work with retailers and regulate channels that they have control over, such as their official company website, to prevent underage use.

With these initiatives in place, the question becomes whether or not the Juul epidemic among teenagers is improving or getting worse. With several stores within the area selling Juul pods and other vape products, just how easy is it for teenagers to obtain these illegal items?

An employee from Krauszer’s Food Store on Central Avenue, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “I don’t see many teenagers trying to buy vape products or Juul pods here, so I don’t think it happens very often.

We ask everyone for an identification card, and if they are under 21 we don’t sell them any vape products,” he continued. “Especially if we suspect the customer to be a teenager, we always ask for ID.”

However, the response from WHS students was very different.

I used to buy Juul pods from Krauszer’s all the time,” a WHS junior girl said. “I’ve never shown ID.”

In addition to Juul pods, there have been reports of WHS students, all of whom are under the legal age to buy tobacco products in New Jersey, easily obtaining all sorts of vape pens and electronic cigarettes from Krauszer’s without being asked for identification.

I’m 18 and I’ve easily bought three electronic cigarette products from Krauszer’s,” said one senior girl. “They have never asked me for ID and always just hand it over.”

Similarly, a senior boy said, “I’ve walked into Krauszer’s three different times and bought an electronic cigarette and was never asked to show ID.”

One WHS junior boy said perhaps the prevention of teen Juul use should focus on local stores such as Krauszer’s rather than on tackling the national epidemic at large.

It’s crazy how easy it is to buy vapes and Juuls and stuff around here,” he said. “All you have to do is walk into the store and ask. If we want to fix the problem, that’s where we should start. It’s just too easy.”

Following these reports, Hi’s Eye contacted the manager of Krauszer’s, Mr. Max Patel, via a phone interview. While he restated the store’s claim that each employee should request ID when selling vape and tobacco products, he also said that teens may be obtaining these devices through a third party.

“At my store, this guy comes in who’s about 22 years old, I don’t know his name,” Patel said. “He shows me his ID and then buys two or three hundred dollars worth of Juul products. I asked him about a month ago what he was going to do with all of it, and he told me he could sell them easily to kids—more than I sell in my store.

“And I tell him that it’s not right, and he tells me I have no control over what he buys,” Patel continued. “He’s 22, 23, so I have to sell to him.”

In addition to reports of adults mass-buying Juuls and re-distributing them to teens, Patel also claimed to have seen kids wait outside the store and pay adults to buy products for them.

“Sometimes when kids come [to the store], they wait for the people who have IDs with them and give them money to buy stuff,” he said. “The day before yesterday, this guy, about 65 years old, came in and bought products for a kid. A 65-year-old man bought a Blu electronic cigarette for a kid. I have the video. He gave the Blu to a kid.”

Because of this complicated, third-party sale of Juuls, Patel said he told the owner of Krauszer’s to remove Juul products from the store. “I don’t want this headache,” he said. “This isn’t just about you guys—a couple of parents have come into the store, too. This is getting too crazy. I’m seeing older people buying them and selling them to kids, and then I get blamed for it.”

From these reports, it can be concluded that illegally obtaining Juul and vape products in Westfield is not very difficult, and underage use of these products certainly appears to be growing. The question now becomes how parents are reacting to this increasing epidemic, and what action can be taken to prevent it from growing further.

The main concerns parents have regarding their kids using a Juul or other smoke product are the health issues that come with it. Although the specific health defects these new electronic products can cause are still largely unknown, parents are worried about the development of addiction to nicotine.

“The nicotine is addictive and teenagers don’t understand the real health dangers,” said one WHS parent, who will be referred to as Parent A. “I am so dismayed to see that Juuls have become the cigarette of this generation.”

Parents interviewed agree that it is necessary to take action against underage use and that JUUL Labs should be held accountable. However, when it comes to what parents can do in their everyday lives to stop this epidemic, communication and education seem to be the key.

“Parents can’t be by their children’s side all the time,” said another anonymous parent, who will be referred to as Parent B. “All we can do is teach our children right and wrong, good and bad, and healthy and damaging. We hope we have provided our children with the necessary tools to make the right decisions when they are faced with life choices.”

Due to the easy accessibility of these products, Juuls have become very popular within college and high school settings. However, recently middle-schoolers have been reportedly introduced to this product as well.

“I am horrified that my son in middle school has dozens of friends who Juul,” said Parent A. “It has become a problem and clearly Juuls are too accessible.”

Despite concerns from parents about the safety of these products, the managers of several local smoke shops, including Discount Vape Pen, Aladdin’s Glass & Vape, and Chillin’ Out Smoke & Vape Shop, all argued that vape products are safe if used properly. The manager at Aladdin’s Glass & Vape said that vapes only become dangerous if they are abused or not properly maintained.

As this epidemic continues to grow, it is becoming clear that teens are not using the products for their intended purpose. Juuls and other vapes were created to help people quit smoking cigarettes, and the smoke-shop managers reiterated this. However, most teens who use them never had an addiction to cigarettes to begin with.

The manager at Discount Vape Pen said, “The biggest problem is that teenagers are smoking Juuls without ever having been addicted to cigarettes, so they are getting addicted to nicotine when they didn’t have to be.”

Chillin’ Out Smoke & Vape Shop, Scotch Plains. photo by Greta Frontero

The issue is that teenagers may be creating a dangerous addiction without realizing it when using these products incorrectly. The manager at Chillin’ Out Smoke & Vape Shop strongly believes that Juuls, for instance, should not be used to relieve issues like anxiety.

“With vape products, they should only be used to wean off nicotine,” he said. “This type of substance is not the answer [for anxiety], and you’re probably only making it worse for the future.

“Juuls absolutely hinder high school kids, and I know that because of how concerned parents are,” he continued. “If you knew how many parents and teachers came in here asking me what this stuff is, it would blow your f****** mind.”

But even these warnings haven’t stopped many teens from trying to buy smoke products. All three managers said that teenagers come into their stores all the time looking to buy Juuls or other products. Each store has posted a sign stating that photo ID is required and that customers have to be 21 or older, but some teens still attempt to purchase products with fake IDs.

“If anyone comes in here with a questionable ID, I bring it upstairs and look up if this person actually is a resident of Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, or whatever,” said the manager of Chillin’ Out Smoke & Vape Shop. “If I find it to be fake, I personally cut the ID in half, or I hang it on our ID wall of shame.”

Finally, when asked if the public should be worried about the teen Juul/vaping epidemic and its dangers, the managers had varying opinions. The manager of Aladdin’s Glass & Vape confidently said that the dangers of smoke products are “definitely overstated and exaggerated,” whereas both managers of Chillin’ Out Smoke & Vape Shop and Discount Vape Pen agreed that teenagers shouldn’t be using these products.

“Most people I know smoke vapes because they used to smoke cigarettes, but that’s usually not the case for teens,” said the manager of Discount Vape Pen. “Adults use vapes to transition, and teenagers don’t—that’s the difference.

“Kids using them at parties to look cool is not the purpose at all.”

Meanwhile, here in Westfield the Juul-smoking continues among teens around town. “I’ve never seen an experience like this before,” said Patel of Krauszer’s. “And I’ve been in this business the past 15 years.”

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