Local high school student speaks in D.C. on vaping boom among teens

HOLBROOK, Mass. — A Massachusetts high school student traveled to Washington D.C. to speak on the serious subject of teen vaping.

Holbrook High School senior Sarah Ryan's appearance at a Washington press conference about the dangers of teen vaping was no accident; Surgeon General Jerome Adams just put out a national advisory warning about teen use of devices, such as the Juul.

Ryan works with groups that discourage kids from smoking and vaping. Her remarks were at times personal and at other times, brutally honest.

"I have family members who started smoking when they were kids before they realized how dangerous cigarettes could be," said Ryan. "Vaping has become ingrained in my school's culture. These products are used by kids of every age and every social circle."

Sarah Ryan's first national speaking opportunity was actually a long time coming. For years she's been an activist in Holbrook, working to get flavored vape solutions out of places frequented by kids.

That's what Ryan finds most appalling about the vaping industry; she believes it is targeting kids.

"And you can't tell me that the Sour Patch Kids flavors and the candy type flavors are meant to help adult smokers quit. They're meant to attract youth," she said.

Juul said in a statement that its product was never intended for youth and the company is committed to preventing youth from accessing it. "We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated."

The company says it has implemented a number of initiatives to help contribute to curbing underage use which includes ending the distribution of some Juul flavors to retail stores, eliminating social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram and an action plan that outlines steps they have taken, such as using "the strongest tools available" to prevent underage purchases on their website.

"We stopped the distribution of certain flavored JUULpods to retail stores as of November 17, 2018, strengthened the age verification of our industry leading site, eliminated our Facebook and Instagram accounts, and are developing new technology to further limit youth access and use. We are committed to working with the Surgeon General, FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in this effort."

Ryan says the vaping problem at school is bad.

"I had a sixth-grader tell me once that it was easier to get someone to lend him a Juul than a pencil," she said.

And it's only getting worse.

"The past year has really exploded. Kids talk about it all the time. It's not just the jocks do it or the nerds do it, like every different type of kid at every single age is doing it. And I think it just shows how far this has really gone," said Ryan.

This story has been updated with a response from Juul.