Speaker addresses vaping and 'Juuling' with Manchester students and parents

Speaker addresses vaping and 'Juuling' with Manchester students and parents
Robert Hackenson Jr. spoke to Manchester Valley High School parents about “seeing through the smoke” of misinformation about vaping Thursday, Nov.29. (Catalina Righter / Carroll County Times)

Robert Hackenson Jr. stood on the stage at Manchester Valley High School and directed a group of parents and teachers to perform a popular party trick.

First they rotated their feet clockwise. Then, at the same time, they tried to draw a number six in the air. Despite their intentions, the laughing audience members found their feet circling counterclockwise.


“You knew exactly what you wanted to do,” Hackenson said. “But along the way there was a disconnect.”

The group of parents gathered in the Manchester Valley auditorium were there to learn more about vaping and “Juuling,” a type of e-cigarette use that parents and teachers say is widespread among teenagers.

Hackenson said he chose the title “See through the Smoke” because the goal is to get rid of misinformation about vaping mostly spread by companies trying to sell their products.

The parents-only session Thursday, Nov. 29, came before in-school assemblies held at Manchester Valley and North Carroll Middle School the next day.

The program was funded by a grant from the Cigarette Restitution Fund through the Carroll County Health Department.

During the session, Hackenson shared that all Juul brand pods contain nicotine.One Juul pod, which many teens consume in one day, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, he said.

“We need to change the perception of what addiction is,” he said. “If I say, ‘You’re an addict,’ oftentimes, the kids ... think about somebody living on the streets.”

But he sees addiction in smaller and more recognizable ways.

“When something happens and you feel stressed, do you have to go and have some? Are you compelled to do that? If I say, ‘I’m going to take it away,’ and you go, ‘No, I need it,’ that’s addiction,” he said.

He shared statistics that stated 90 percent of lifelong smokers started in their teen years.

Vaping at the rate of one Juul pod per day will cost about $1,387 per year, he said.

Even other electronic smoking products that are marketed as containing no nicotine have been tested by independent groups and found to contain the addictive substance.

Companies don’t mind the fines from regulators that come months later, he said, because they have already started making money from customers now hooked on nicotine.

He comes from a sales background, and part of the presentation broke down the way Juul and other similar products are marketed.


While products marketed as “electronic cigarettes” did not catch on with younger users who have been taught in school since childhood to avoid cigarettes, Juul and other products that are shaped differently, named differently, marketed on social media and sold in candy-like flavors had greater appeal, he theorized.

Another common misconception is the vapor from electronic smoking devices contains water vapor. It contains zero percent water vapor and is mostly oil vapor.

The ingredients of vape oil, though they may be listed on the label, create different byproducts when heated by a metal coil, he said.

What’s needed, he believes, is “a lot more long-term studies” on the effects of vaping over years. As it stands, teens who vape are “guinea pigs” for long-term effects.

A representative from the Juul company reached out with a statement after becoming aware of the presentation.

“JUUL is intended for current adult smokers only. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. Underage use of JUUL and any other vaping products is completely unacceptable to us and is directly opposed to our mission of eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative to combustible cigarettes. We stand committed to working with those who want to keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people.”

After the presentation, parents and school staff asked questions and shared their observations.

Some parents shared that they had caught their children trying to conceal using a Juul. When they tried to talk to their children, they felt like they needed more information about the products.

Others shared that even students who wanted to stop vaping were having trouble with addiction.

Others shared that vaping was widespread and teens didn’t seem to be hiding it the way teens in their generation would be secretive about smoking cigarettes. One mom said it surprised her how boldly teens were vaping during this summer’s carnival even though they were in full view of parents, police and other members of the community.

Another said her son preferred to avoid using school bathrooms because they are full of students vaping during the day.

Manchester Valley Principal Eric King spoke about the difficulties of catching students vaping in school, even when school resource officers and hall monitors make checks of halls and bathrooms. Because the oil vapor and scent dissipate quickly and the device is so small, evidence of vaping can be concealed within seconds when a student hears approaching footsteps.

“Back in the old days … come on, an idiot could catch a kid smoking a cigarette,” he said. “Now, it is much more difficult.”

Vaping is prohibited in Carroll County Public Schools, and the school may punish students by requiring them to take an informational class, taking away their eligibility for extracurricular activities or suspension.

Another parent spoke about the social difficulty and feelings of isolation for students who don’t vape when their friends do.

Health teacher Shelly Brezicki led the effort to apply for the grant. In recent years, students have started talking with “a voice of desire” when the topic of vaping came up during health classes.

If students got one thing out of the presentation, she hoped it would be the message about nicotine addiction because that is “something that will affect the rest of their lives.”