Kent Roosevelt High School deals with tobacco use among students


Shawn Angell poses while smoking his vape pen in the morning before class on October 31, 2018.

Bryan Vohsing

In Portage County, nearly 12 percent of those ages 12 to 17 use tobacco products, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Statistics like these are why the Food and Drug Administration called the recent popularity of Juuls and other electronic cigarettes among teens an epidemic in its September report.

Tobacco products like Juuls have become popular among teens for their ability to remain discreet. Fully assembled, Juuls are under 10 centimeters long and look like a USB drive.

Three students from Kent Roosevelt High School said they see products like Juuls all over the place.

“(Students) use it (Juuls and e-cigarettes) almost everywhere,” said one student, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being bullied for “snitching” on their peers. “Going to the bathroom, in the hallways, in class, on the bus ­— anywhere they can sneak it in.”

Juuls and e-cigarettes are causing the most problems at Kent Roosevelt in places like bathrooms, which are smaller and offer more privacy.

One student claimed the school will sometimes close the restrooms because of some students’ smoking habits.

“You have to go all the way around the school to get to another bathroom, and this happens like every other week,” they said. “It’s really annoying.”

The students interviewed said there are businesses in Ravenna that sell tobacco products to minors. Two of the businesses received a warning letter from the FDA earlier this year about the sale of tobacco products to minors. Neither business answered calls requesting comment.

This summer, the FDA issued 1,300 warning letters and fines to businesses caught selling tobacco products to minors, according to its website. Fifteen of those businesses were in Kent, and another nine were in Ravenna. All businesses received a warning letter and were not given a fine.  

Kent City Schools Superintendent George Joseph said Kent Roosevelt doesn’t have a serious Juul problem, but he recognizes some students are using the e-cigarette.

“Juul kind of came out of nowhere for us,” Joseph said. “I remember seeing one for the first time. I thought it was just a thumb drive that the student had.”

Since this incident, Joseph and his staff have updated the smoking policy at the local schools and have earned an A-plus rating from the Ohio Department of Health three of the last four years.

Kent Roosevelt’s policy states nobody can smoke on school property at any hour of the day. Also, students participating in school activities outside of school property cannot smoke, even if the location allows them to.

“We have a strict policy, and, yes, we enforce it, but our goal is always to make sure we take care of our staff and students,” Joseph said. “We have programs to help them either kick the habit or help them overcome their nicotine fix.”

Students who participate in these programs usually get their punishments lessened, which is helpful when dealing with punishments like expulsions. Joseph said about one-third of the expulsions given to students this year have involved tobacco use.

This comes after Kent City Council passed an ordinance in July that raised the legal purchasing age of tobacco products in Kent to 21.

The purpose of the ordinance was to limit the ability of youth to obtain tobacco products. Kent Roosevelt students said a popular method of getting tobacco products was asking an 18-year-old senior to purchase the product for them. With the ordinance, this is no longer possible.

However, 18-year-old students can still drive to cities like Ravenna, where Tobacco 21 laws have not been implemented, to purchase tobacco products for their friends.

The Food and Drug Administration’s efforts

The majority of the 1,300 warning letters or fines issued by the FDA were regarding “the illegal sale of five e-cigarette products – Vuse, Blu, JUUL, MarkTen XL, and Logic.” 

Juul is causing the most concern, as one Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit tobacco control organization. Juul is also the most popular type of e-cigarette, holding over half of the e-cigarette market.

Juul and the four other companies listed above are required to send a plan detailing how they will combat the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors by the middle of November.

In addition to the FDA’s 1,300 warning letters and fines, it issued 12 warnings to online retailers on Sept. 12.

The FDA found these retailers were “selling misleadingly labeled and/or advertised e-liquids resembling kid-friendly food products,” such as candy and cookies.

Flavors like candy and cookie that appeal to a younger audience are causing a lot of problems, as flavored cigarettes are already illegal in the United States, giving a distinct advantage to e-cigarette companies. These flavors also allow e-cigarette companies to advertise their products toward minors.

“The e-cigarette companies are targeting younger kids,” Joseph said. “Why have cotton candy flavor, why have a bubble gum flavor? Those are not adult flavors.”

Joseph has seen the effect of this advertising in Kent schools, as students have begun using tobacco products at a younger age.

“It’s not just about 18, 19, and 20-year-olds,” he said. “It’s about 13, 14 and 15-years-olds.”

Bryan Vohsing is a business and downtown/Trumbull reporter. Contact him at [email protected].