By Joe McQueen and Anthony Leon
Southampton High School filed a lawsuit against vaping giant Juul on February 7 in the multidistrict litigation court in the Northern District of California.
The school joined the Three Village Central School District in Stony Brook on January 14 along with schools in other states like Missouri and Kansas. Zahn joined the lawsuit in order to receive financial compensation and to hold Juul accountable for their role in the school’s vaping epidemic that began three years ago.
“Any of the new flavor bans for anyone to believe they are doing anything productive to stop youth use is completely inaccurate,” Southampton High School Principal Brian Zahn said.
“It caught everyone by surprise,” Zahn said. “We all began to take disciplinary measures because we believed at the time it was more of a social trend. We realized that suspensions were making it worse because they were going home, continuing to Juul and vape, and falling behind academically.”
The school district ended up spending upwards of $100,000 combatting vaping since 2018, Zahn said. The funds were geared towards introducing intervention programs, bringing in guest speakers who spoke to students about the dangers of vaping, and hiring a social worker who specializes in substance abuse.
To balance the budget, the Southampton High School made cuts in programs like sports, A.P. courses, and other extracurricular activities, according to Zahn.
Administrators are having to spend a substantial amount of time dealing with student vaping over teaching, Steven Gacovino, the lawyer representing the school, said.
Calling it “the iPhone of vaping devices,” Gacovino says that Juul’s effective marketing strategies are part of the reason as to why young people become addicted. Through social media and other digital platforms, Juul has put out advertisements displaying young, attractive teenagers partying while “Juuling.” Gacovino explained that the coolness and sleekness of a vaping device that looks like a flash drive, is another big reason as to how Juul has been successful.
“The original intention of SADD was to help students with substance abuse problems, but the program has become more targeted towards vaping because of its prevalence,” said Lauren Heaney, a senior at Southampton High School who founded the local chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).
“It started during my freshman year where I saw many upperclassmen vaping in the locker rooms before and after sporting events,” Heaney said. “It really became an issue during my sophomore year because it was so easy to do. It looks like a small flash drive, even some look like highlighters and pens.”
SADD began making presentations to middle schoolers regarding the potential hazards of vaping so younger generations avoid the product.
“It’s concerning that vaping has spread to younger students,” said Grace Kearns, another senior at Southampton High School who also works with SADD.
“It’s up to the students to spread the message,” Kearns said. “Our job is to help the teachers stop it as soon as possible.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t conduct the proper tests when investigating Juul, Heaney, and Dr. Zahn, claim. They believe that the FDA should’ve taken Juul off the marketplace during the investigation. In January, the FDA implemented a vape flavor ban that includes fruit and mint flavors. However, Dr. Zahn believes that this ban won’t do enough to solve the problem since different companies have come out with vaping devices that have disposable cartridges.
Dr. Zahn also believes that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics of student vaping are inaccurate because the numbers are self-reported. The CDC in 2019, says that 27.5% of high school students frequently vape, but Dr. Zahn argues the number should be around 60-70%.
A representative from Juul could not be reached for comment.
Cloud Hampton Vape Store, located in Southampton, declined to be interviewed. However, the shop released a statement to The Osprey stating, “We do not condone young people using vaping products. Our business is not a fan of Juul due to their business practices and the fact that their products aren’t designed to get people off smoking and instead get them addicted to something new.”