High Point 16-year-old turns JUUL addiction into anti-use advocacy

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- High Point teen Luka Kinard has an extraordinary story; but it began with a desire most teens feel every day.

As a freshman at High Point Central, Luka went to a Friday night football game. There, he saw that some of the older students were sitting in front rows, while he was relegated to the back.

"Everybody in the front, that's the better seats, so everybody with the better seats was doing it so I wanted to fit in,” Luka recalled.

“It,” as he referred to, was JUULing. JUUL is a newer type of e-cigarette researchers say have a higher nicotine content that most previous vapes.

"The content of nicotine that JUUL has is three times higher than the previous e-cigarette models,” said Dr. Sven-Eric Jordt, of Duke University’s School of Medicine.

For more information on his research click here.

"Addiction to JUULing, it was right away,” Luka said.

Luka says his addiction led him to other substances, such as alcohol and drugs. Yet, he maintained the foundation of his issue remained with the JUUL. He suffered chest inflammation, which he blamed for a seizure in September 2018.

"I normally always had fatigue, I was always, always, always, always could not sleep,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Luka’s parents told him he was going to rehab.

"It wasn't really even until like three weeks into rehab that I was really thinking, man, like I've gotta stop,” Luka said.

While there, Luka’s mother told him she’d contacted a newspaper about his story. Hesitant to share at first, he realized that he could be a voice for change as the JUUL became more prevalent in his school.

"You could go down a hallway and probably see them on the floor,” Luka said.

Today, Luka travels to one or two schools every couple weeks, speaking to students about the dangers of vaping and nicotine use.

"Most convenience stores, and they most likely won't ID you if you look older,” Luka said, detailing how easily he was able to get JUUL pods. "[Or] doing the simple thing of going outside a gas station and being like, 'Hey, like I'll pay you a few bucks if you go in and get this for me.'"

Luka has now done conferences with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and traveled states away to conferences. Recently, he appeared in Washington, D.C., with the Truth Initiative.

“I was just thinking, 'You know, I have an opportunity. I have a big opportunity to have a big voice for a lot of people,’” he said.

He now has plans to travel all over the country, asking students what their reasons would be for using nicotine; whether it’s to fit in, relieve stress or curiosity.

"To each of those, I'd say there's healthier ways to do all those things,” Luka said.

He plans to make part of his mission encouraging the regulation of who is selling the products to anyone under the age of 18.

"Nobody who's underage should be able to walk into a store and not get ID'd,” he said.

Stein sued JUUL on May 15, 2019, for “targeting young people and creating an e-cig epidemic among minors.” Stein went on to call JUUL’s business practices “reckless” and “illegal.”

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