Luka Kinard began vaping at 14 years old, right after he entered high school in September 2017.
The teenager from High Point, North Carolina, noticed his classmates were using the popular e-cigarette Juul and he wanted to fit in.
Within months he was addicted.
He vaped an average of four pods a day for nearly a year, both at home and at school. His grades started slipping and he even began selling his clothes to fuel his habit, which cost him $150-a-week.
Finally, in summer 2018, the 15-year-old suffered a seizure, which forced his parents to recognize the seriousness of his addiction and find a treatment center to help their son get clean of nicotine.
Luka Kinard, 15 (left and right), of High Point, North Carolina, began vaping when he entered high school in September 2017 to fit in with other students. He vaped four Juul pods a day, a habit that cost him $150 a week to fuel
His parents say his grades slipped, he lost an interest in activities and began having violent outbursts. Pictured: Luka in an interview with NBC News
Juul’s original nicotine pods contained roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes.
In high doses, nicotine is toxic. It raises blood pressure and heart rate, and can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract.
Nicotine also causes the brain to release dopamine throughout the body, which leads to addiction and the body craving more and more to be satisfied.
The addictive chemical can alter the electrical signals between your brain and nervous system, which can cause a seizure.
Juul is the most popular e-cigarette brand and currently controls about 70 percent of the e-cigarette market.
It has a sleek USB-like design and comes in several flavors – which experts say are marketed towards teens and can fuel a tobacco addiction.
Luka told The Wall Street Journal his favorite flavors were mango and menthol
He said it cost him a $150-a-week to keep up his habit and he became so desperate to get his fix that he started selling his clothes.
‘I would get shoes, sell them, go out get cheap shoes, sell them,’ he told NBC News.
‘I was doing anything and everything to get money. When I started spending $17 every four days or every day it was getting to a problem.’
WHAT IS IN A JUUL POD AND WHY IS IT SO POTENT?
Like most e-cigarettes, Juuls work by vaporizing liquefied nicotine ‘salts,’ flavoring and preservatives.
The nicotine salts are the key to a Juul pod’s potency.
Juul says that each of its original six percent nicotine pods contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes.
Cigarettes and Juul vapor are inhaled and the nicotine within them is absorbed differently, making this comparison tricky.
The ‘nicotine salts’ in Juul pods pack a more intense punch of nicotine that hits a vaper very similarly to the way that cigarette smoke does.
Nicotine gets absorbed very quickly, with a ‘freebase’ effect like smoking provides.
But some cigarette smoke gets lost along the way to the lungs, getting absorbed into the filter, or dissipating outside the smoker’s mouth
For this reason, Juul users may actually end up with a higher dose of nicotine than even cigarette smokers do.
Luka’s mother, Kelly, said her son started experiencing several behavioral problems as well.
‘He went from being a straight-A student to an F student,’ she told the network.
‘[It was] a very rapid decline in grades. His behavior became explosive. He was very angry and it just wasn’t him.’
The then-freshman lost interest in all his after-school activities and hobbies aside from vaping.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of middle and high school student used e-cigarettes in 2017.
It’s a massive spike from the 1.5 percent of high schoolers that had tried e-cigarettes in 2011.
Juul has begun offering pods that are just three percent nicotine – half of the original – to get around FDA regulations and has discontinued a majority of its flavors.
However, the US Surgeon General has classified youth e-cigarette use as an ‘epidemic’.
Things took a turn last summer when Luka had a seizure, which can be caused by severe exposure to nicotine, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
After he had a seizure in summer 2018, Luka’s mom Kelly (pictured) enrolled him in an inpatient rehabilitation center in California to help him quit his habit
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of middle and high school student used e-cigarettes in 2017
‘He was at his girlfriend’s house and an ambulance was called and he ended up in at the emergency room,’ Kelly said.
Through online research, she found that nicotine addiction should be treated like a substance-abuse problem, so she started looking for an appropriate treatment center.
In summer 2018, Luka spent 40 days at a rehabilitation center in California that is run by the Center for Discovery.
His family told The Journal that his program consisted of regular meetings with therapists, being prescribed medication for anxiety and coping medications such as listening to music or writing.
‘Treatment teaches you ways just to say no,’ Luka told the newspaper.
His grades have been improving since he quit and he’s attending scout meetings again.
Kelly recommends that other parents pay attention if their kid starts exhibiting similar behavior.
‘They need to react quickly. And they need to get treatment for their kids as soon as possible,’ she told NBC News.