E-cigarette use among​ young adults is on the rise


Reoccurring sights on a college campus include students riding their bikes or organizations handing out flyers, but another common sight at the University of Oklahoma is vapor clouds, which are often accompanied by scents like mango or creme.

Whether walking to class or studying in the library, an increasing number of students can be found using electronic cigarettes like the brand JUUL, but efforts to decrease nicotine use among minors and young adults might change this.

JUUL devices, which hit the market in 2015, can be used discretely since they resemble in both style and size a USB flash drive. JUULpods, which are cartridges that are placed into the top of the device, contain a salt-based nicotine e-liquid formula, according to JUUL’s website. When the e-liquid is heated, the vapor is generated and inhaled.

The nicotine in one JUULpod is equivalent to a whole pack of cigarettes, but about 37 percent of 15- to 24-year-old JUUL consumers are unaware of whether the product contains nicotine, according to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that the agency is seeking to have all flavored e-cigarette products, other than tobacco, mint and menthol, “sold in age-restricted, in-person locations and, if sold online, under heightened practices for age verification.”

Two days before this announcement, JUUL Labs CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement that the company would discontinue selling fruit and desert-flavored JUULpods to retailers and will only sell them to stores that scan IDs to ensure the customer is 21-years-old. For online purchases, the company will use more age-verification measures.

Alex Weeks, a 21-year-old Norman resident, said he started smoking cigarettes when he was 15 and started using e-cigarettes when he was 18. He used the JUUL for about four months and would use about one JUULpod a day, with mint being his favorite flavor.

“It was nice to feel that rush to the head and that tingling sensation again after not feeling that from smoking for a long time,” said Weeks.

He still alternates between vaping and smoking cigarettes

According to the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of e-cigarette users are under the age of 35-years-old, and consumption is the highest among 18- to 24-year-olds with about 2.8 million users in this age range.

JUUL is more popular than any e-cigarette brand made by big tobacco companies, according to the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. Garrett Lee, an associate at the vaporizer store The Intake in Norman, said about every 3 out of 5 customers buys JUULpods or a similar pod system. He said people of all ages purchase JUUL products at the store, but many are 18- to 20-year-olds.

The Intake is about four miles away from OU. A pack of four JUULpods cost about $16, according to JUUL’s website.

Lee said the restrictions have not impacted the store’s business yet since they have a large supply of flavored JUULpods. Once their supply is gone, they will have to wait to get an ID scanner and will only be able to sell JUULpod flavors like mango, cucumber, creme and fruit to customers 21-years-old or older. Customers between the ages of 18- to 20-years-old will still be able to purchase mint, tobacco and menthol-flavored JUULpods.

Weeks now uses a cheaper e-cigarette, but he enjoyed using the JUUL since it was small, simple to use and could easily be charged by using a USB port.

“I didn’t have to mess with buying juice and filling it up or anything,” Weeks said. “I would just buy the pods, buy the JUUL and go.”

Julie Bisbee, director of public information and outreach for the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, said it is fair to say e-cigarette usage can be higher in a college town like Norman since it houses a larger number of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Nicotine typically does not have an appealing flavor, Bisbee said, so flavored products ease the harshness. She said placing more restrictions on fruit and desert-flavored nicotine will hopefully lead to fewer young people experimenting with e-cigarettes.

“We know that the person’s brain is still developing until they are 25 so those things that you start doing in adolescents and young adulthood can be hardwired into your brain and make it even more difficult to quit nicotine, which in and of itself is highly addictive,” Bisbee said.

Nicotine can have long-term damaging effects on adolescent brain development and can affect the cardiovascular system, according to the Youth Engagement Alliance For Tobacco Control.

Even though the JUUL and e-cigarettes can be used to help people stop smoking cigarettes, it has also attracted many non-smokers. Out of all e-cigarette consumers, 15 percent never smoked cigarettes, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust funds services like 1-800-QUIT NOW, which is a 24 hour, seven days a week hotline where tobacco users can call and receive services and free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. Bisbee said the trust is preparing to launch a campaign about the risk and harm of flavored nicotine products.

OU’s American Sign Language program faces an uncertain future


“What should I major in?”

“How many classes should I take?”

“What is it like living in the dorms?”

These are common questions prospective students have before enrolling at the University of Oklahoma, but Katherine Stroh had a different question: “Where can I practice American Sign Language on campus?”

As a freshman in 2016, Stroh, who is now a junior biology and Spanish double major, discovered OU did not have an ASL program or club, but she was not alone in wondering why. Other students and staff had the same question.

In fall of 2017, the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology answered these demands by offering ASL courses, which are part of the Special Education program.

“Initially when I came, I was hoping for a minor that could maybe turn into a major,” Stroh said. “But since we didn’t have anything, even getting ASL I was a win for us.”

But after only a year, the future of the program has become uncertain.

The program has not been able to secure funding at the university and college level. It was supported last year by one-time funding, but Teresa Debacker, interim chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, said the goal of the college is to secure permanent funding.

“I think that the barrier that we’re up against right now is that ASL, like lots of other things on campus right now, are just on hold again while President Gallogly gets an understanding of the budget, establishes his own priorities and then releases funds accordingly,” Debacker said.

ASL is the seventh most enrolled language at OU for the fall 2018 semester with 119 students, according to a document provided by Enrollment and Student Financial Services. The university offers courses for 17 languages.

There are six sections of ASL I and one section of ASL III offered for the fall 2018 semester. Debacker said ASL III will be indefinitely discontinued after this semester, but the program is not ending.

Over the summer, Stroh said her and other ASL students received an email about the decision since many majors require students to take a minimum of three semesters of a foreign language. This has led to some students having to enroll in ASL III at different universities to complete their major’s foreign language requirement.

Stroh said she has encouraged students to write testimonies about how the program has impacted students and made a difference at OU, which she plans to give to the provost. She has also reached out to the Oklahoma Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Oklahoma Association of the Deaf for support.

Stroh said she became interested in learning ASL in high school so she could communicate with a deaf classmate. Once ASL was offered at OU, Stroh and another student decided to start the American Sign Language Club on campus. She is now the president of the club, which meets twice a week and has about 20 active members.

Tuesday evening meetings are geared towards beginners and students interested in learning ASL. A theme such as food or expressing emotion is chosen for the night and is used to teach members signs related to the theme. A deaf culture fact of the week is also presented to members.

Friday lunchtime meetings are for silent conversations where people socialize using ASL and practice conversations skills. Stroh said the silent environment is important to experience.

Sometimes the program’s assistant professor and two adjunct instructors, who are all deaf, come to the Friday meetings. Stroh said a few deaf and hard of hearing students from OU are part of the club; instead, its members are mostly beginners.

“As you start learning ASL, you start learning about deaf culture and then you open yourself up to a whole population of people that you otherwise might not even think about,” Stroh said. “It’s easy to kind of marginalize that group, but having ASL and having it be a strong program makes it so that this group that has been marginalized and ostracized for so, so long gets hopefully some sort of voice and some sort of recognition here at OU.”

During a press conference in August, Gallogly said he would decide later down the road whether to cut some academic programs, according to The OU Daily. After taking office in July, this is part of his on-going effort to “fix” the budget and keep student tuition flat.

Other areas of campus have already experienced Gallogly’s budget cuts. Most recently, The OU Daily reported that OU’s Office of Undergraduate Research and OU’s Center for Research Program Development and Enrichment have been terminated as well as 50 staff positions, which were mainly in OU’s landscaping department.

While the future of OU’s ASL program is unclear, Oklahoma State University’s program is the opposite.

Sandie Busby, ASL program coordinator at OSU, said the university’s ASL program offers an ASL minor and has been approved for an ASL Bachelor of Arts degree. The program has been under the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Languages and Literatures since 2012, but Busby said the program did not initially succeed when it started in 2004 under the Department of English.

Since ASL is based on French, Busby said she thinks the ASL program at OU would be improved if it was moved to the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Linguistics instead of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology.

Dylan Herrick, chair of the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, said the department would like to address the issues several of its language programs like Italian, Russian and Japanese are facing before adding another language. He said the solution for ASL funding lies at the college or provost level.

Herrick said it would not make sense for every foreign language at the university to be taught in his department since languages are offered in multiple different departments at OU. Languages are offered such as Kiowa in the Department of Native American Studies and Latin in the Department of Classics and Letters.

Even though ASL is not in his department, Herrick said ASL should still be viewed as a foreign language with its own grammar since some people view it as just spelling English out with signs. According to the Department of Educational Psychology’s website, ASL and Native American Languages qualify as foreign languages due to the State Regent’s Foreign Language competency policy.

Many OU programs are facing similar budget problems, but students and staff are continuing to fight for the future of the ASL program.

“It (ASL) really has changed my life,” Stroh said. “It’s impacting more than just OU. It’s impacting the entirety of Norman and in Oklahoma.”



Executive director of a Norman mental health center reflects on her roots

By Katelyn Howard

When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, popular responses include a firefighter, an astronaut, a veterinarian or a cowboy.

As a child, Cathy Billings had her heart set on a different career: social work.

Billings was determined to follow the footsteps of her aunt Betty Williams, who was a social worker.

“She was the only real adult in my life that talked about her work with such passion and excitement,” Billings said.

Even though she knew nothing about the field, her reasoning was simple: to have a good time, to help people and to not work on holidays. Her motivation for entering social work changed over the years, but her goal remained the same.

This led to Billings becoming the executive director of the Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center in Norman in June 2015. The center provides mental health and substance abuse services to children, youth, adults and families. Billings said the center employees about 110 staff members and serves about 3,500 outpatients a year from Cleveland and McClain counties as well as others from across the state.

In 1968, the center was the first facility of its kind built in the United States, according to the center’s website. Federal and state funds were used to build and staff the center under the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, which was passed during the administration of President John F. Kennedy. The center was first located on the campus of Griffin Memorial Hospital, which was then called Central State Hospital, in Norman and moved in 1969 to its current location on Alameda Street.

During this time, Dr. Hayden Donahue, superintendent of the hospital, proposed a grant to the National Institute of Mental Health, which led to the center being built, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ website. This center was different since institutionalization in large state hospitals had been the main way to treat mental illness until the mid-1960s. About 6,400 Oklahomans were in the state’s mental hospitals on a normal day.

After almost 50 years, Oklahoma is still facing similar problems related to mental health and substance abuse.

About 600,000 Oklahomans have reported mental illness and about 300,000 have reported alcohol or illicit drug dependence and abuse, according to a document from the department. Out of these people, only one in three have accessed the medical services needed to treat these diseases.

According to a report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the department will receive a state appropriation of about $337.1 million for fiscal year 2019, which is about $11.3 million more than fiscal year 2018. This is a 60.9 percent increase from fiscal year 2009.

“People with mental illness and substance abuse problems die way too early,” Cindy Schultz, clinical director of the center, said while holding back tears. “The deaths of people that we serve is really tough because I really feel like we invest in those people

Billings said the center now has nine buildings total. These house programs like Child and Family Services, which provides services for children and adolescents with behavioral problems, and PACT, Program Assertive Community Treatment, which brings treatment to people who are too ill for office based services.

Even though the main campus building on Alameda Street is old, she said people should not be deceived by its outward appearance.

“Magic happens in these walls,” Billings said. “People come here and receive services, go into recovery and rebuild their lives and their relationships and it’s just pretty cool.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Billings was eager to return to Oklahoma since she had attended the University of Oklahoma and her mother was from the state. After living in D.C. for years, she moved to Oklahoma in 2015 to become an executive director of mental health.

Billings was drawn to this work after witnessing her family members and close friends suffer from behavioral health and substance abuse issues. She noticed the stigma and moral judgments that surrounded these problems.

Her perspective on these issues was changed when she started to view it as a disease of the brain.

“If you’re going to take care of somebody and you’re trying to treat the whole person, you can’t just treat the body,” Billings said. “You have to treat the mind.”

No one day at work is the same for Billings since she takes on numerous roles. There are days where she has an agenda to work on budgets and strategic planning, but then her day is derailed from having to handle a broken air conditioner or a leak in the boiler room. On other days, Billings might have to help come up with a plan for someone with complex problems.

Before Billings came to the center, Schultz said there were communication issues between staff members since they were spread out across different buildings and did not know each other very well.

Billings’ solution was to create treatment teams comprised of social workers, therapists, peers, recovery staff, doctors and nurses, which allowed better coordination and communication. If one provider is ill or gone, the whole team is aware and can quickly find someone else to help during a crisis.

“She was a lot like a breath of fresh air,” Schultz said. “We needed some new ideas and some new tracks to follow.”

Another goal for Billings included doing cosmetic updates to the building so the “outside can reflect how the staff feels on the inside.”

Schultz said Billings made people step out of their normal box of how they did their job and that she has shown commitment to the employees and the consumers. If anyone has a question, Schultz said Billings will invite the person to her office to talk, and she is not afraid to take client calls, even if it is a crisis.

“There is no them and us,” Billings said. “Titles don’t really matter.”

To this day, her aunt Williams is still her idol and mentor. They see each other often since Williams lives in Edmond.

As the younger sister of Billings’ mom, serving others was a daily occurrence for Williams and her seven other siblings while growing up in Marietta, Georgia. Even though her family was poor, her mother would regularly feed the homeless on the back porch of their home.

“My mother always said that the only person who doesn’t have anything is someone who does not give and share so if you give and share, you will always have things,” Williams said.

With her mothers giving spirit being a large influence in her life, she decided to become a social worker since people of all ages would often confide in her.

When Billings was a child, this servants heart was passed on to her. She would always get excited after hearing Williams enthusiastically talk about her job.

When Billings decided to enter the field of social work, Williams knew she could make more money in a different career. Nonetheless, Williams was thrilled that Billings saw something in her that made her want to contribute to others.

Williams said she has been proud of how Billings inspires her workers and can turn a program around that is having trouble.

“I now see why my aunt talked about her work the way she did,” Billings said. “You come to work and it’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it’s intellectual. You get to use all parts of who you are to do this work.”







Q&A with Carly Robinson: A farewell to college

There is a time of year that makes college students feel excited, reminiscent, sad or a mix of all three emotions: graduation.

Carly Robinson, an online journalism senior, is included in this group since she will be graduating from the University of Oklahoma in the spring. Even though it will be a big change, it is nothing new for the Tulsa native since she had a similar experience while transitioning from high school to college.

During her final year, Robinson looked back on the moments that have shaped her, including art, switching majors and being an only child, and discussed what is to come.

Katelyn Howard: What brought you to the University of Oklahoma?

Carly Robinson: So I have family in Norman, and that was a big reason why I picked OU. I toured Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas. When I came to the tour, the campus was super pretty. Then also the fact that I had close relatives – like an aunt and uncle and a bunch of cousins – that live here. That kind of helped make my decision so there would be a little piece of home with me even though I was going what seemed to be so far away, but it is only two hours from Tulsa.

KH: What was your life like in Tulsa?

CR: I went to a private Christian high school so there were only about 90 kids in my graduating class. It was really, really small. So honestly, going anywhere else was going to be an enormous lifestyle change. I also am an only child so I’m so used to having my parents’ attention on me all the time and that kind of thing.

So it was definitely a huge adjustment coming to college from Tulsa, but I played volleyball in high school and I was super involved in everything I did. I was in advanced placement art. That was a big part of my life. It took up so much time, probably way more than it should have. I was at Metro Christian Academy. That was my high school from sixth grade to twelfth grade.

KH: What was it like being so involved in sports and art since those are typically opposites of each other in high school?

CR: In my small high school, it was pretty normal for everyone to be involved in everything. It was just easy to be because…everyone made the team. Everyone could be involved in anything that they wanted to be. It wasn’t really like that strange, but I can see how at a public high school that might be kind of hard because it’s more competitive. I think my high school was more inclusive so it wasn’t very strange.

KH: Why did you decide to pursue journalism?

CR: I came in undecided. I had no idea and then my advisor was like, “You need to start making some decisions and taking some more specialized courses.” And my dad was a business major, and I was like, “You turned out pretty good, maybe I’ll try that.” (laughs) And so of course, I hated it. It was terrible. I am a very artistic person, so that was just not my jam at all.

And so I went back to undecided for a while. Then my cousin actually was a broadcast journalism major here, and I really liked writing. I also enjoyed graphic design and so I thought maybe journalism is a way for me to kind of incorporate both of those things into a career. It’s worked out pretty well so far.

KH: Are you ready for graduation?

CR: Nope. (laughs) It’s kind of that season where friends and family are starting to ask, “What are do you doing after graduation? I’m like, “I don’t know. [Robinson shrugs her shoulders] You have any ideas? Throw my way.” I’m really not sure yet. It’s definitely overwhelming to think that I’m going to have to move and decide what to do in the in next phase.

KH: Could you see yourself coming back to Norman or staying in Norman or do you want to leave Oklahoma?

CR: I think if I stay – if I were to be in Oklahoma – I would be in Oklahoma City or Tulsa just because I’m from Tulsa and my family is. I’m not super eager to get out. I know a lot of people are like, “I have to be in Dallas or Los Angles” or wherever it is, but I really love Oklahoma so I could definitely see myself staying here.

KH: What are you going to miss most about OU?

CR: (sighs) This is such a generic answer, but all the friends that I’ve made. I live in a house with nine girls right now, and we’re all going to go our separate ways. They’re all from Texas and wanting to go all over the place, so it’ll be sad to separate from everybody.




Essay: Speak it into existence

By Katelyn Howard

“Next up, Katelyn Howard.”

As I walked to the front of the room, I repeated the beginning of my speech in my head. The sound of my heels hitting the floor echoed. I tried to control my shaking legs to not give my competitors the upper hand. This feeling wouldn’t leave even though I had already performed about a dozen times that day.

“Ready?,” I asked the judges.

After they nodded, I switched to my public speaking voice and began.

As a member of my high school’s speech and debate team, this was a normal weekend at a tournament for me and thousands of other students across the country who competed in debate, public speaking and acting events.

The coach suggested I join my junior year after I gave a presentation in one of the classes she taught. My response was “Wait, our school has a speech and debate team?” At my small Church of Christ high school in Midland, Texas, a town defined by oil, high school football and George W. Bush, fine arts programs had always been a low priority.

Until this point in my life, I had never stuck with a hobby. Ballet, quit. Tennis, quit. Cello lessons, quit. Since writing was one of my few consistent activities, I decided to give a hobby related to communication like speech and debate a try.

The theater and speech and debate classrooms sat across from each other in a corner of the building many students never visited. This room became more than just a place my four teammates and I would practice for one class period; instead, we would often find ourselves here during lunch and after school. We entered ready to recite our speeches or run lines, but we often became distracted from telling jokes, ranting about our homework and sometimes shedding tears we had been holding back in other classes. Most nights at home, I would reassure my parents, “If you hear me in my room, I swear I’m not talking to myself. I’m just practicing.”

When we weren’t preparing for our next tournament, our time together would extend beyond the classroom since we would have game nights, hang out at coffee shops, plan sleepovers and more.

Even though this classroom was my happy place, it couldn’t beat the stuffy, fluorescent-lit high schools we traveled hundreds of miles to for tournaments. I was in awe since I was used to just my teammates being the few people my age I could relate to. Here I found students with similar interests as me, which was hard to come by at my school. We discussed politics, where we bought our suits, who our biggest competitors were and what we wanted to do after high school.

For the first time, I felt accepted.

As we competed against students from other schools each weekend, some of these people became my friends while others became my enemies, or as much of an enemy as you can have in high school.

We all came from different parts of the state, but it was hard to tell us apart in our uniforms. If you’re a girl, it was a suit jacket, pencil skirt, pointed toe heels, pearl earrings, red lipstick and pantyhose, aka the skin of Satan.

Speech and debate is about the furthest you can get from a sport, but at the end of a tournament, I felt similar to what I imagine running a marathon must be like. After performing a dozen times or more from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., my feet were blistered from climbing staircases in heels and my throat was sore. This routine was exhausting, but the moment the first words of one of my speeches escaped my mouth, the adrenaline would rush back.

At the end of each tournament, our team would go to Whataburger at 11 p.m. in our suits and heels, gorge on fried food and rehash everything that happened that day.

Before we could leave the restaurant, our coach required us to reflect on what we were proudest of that day and what we needed to improve on for the next tournament. As we went around the table, everyone’s personality was reflected in their answers.  

Viki would always incorporate either a British accent or an impression of the YouTuber Miranda Sings into her response. Michaela would deliver yet another speech with an introduction, three paragraphs and conclusion. Kamryn would detail a plan of revenge against her competitors. And Brailyn would undoubtedly end up shedding tears of joy or exhaustion.

Even though we got on one another’s nerves, I considered them all my second family.

When we arrived back to our hotel, we all needed rest; instead, giggling and sharing secrets at 2 a.m. would result in even more sleep deprivation.

The next morning, we would pile into the van and watch tumbleweeds blow by on the unscenic drive home. Many students liked sitting in the back row of the van, but I was the opposite since I enjoyed talking to our coach who was in the front seat.

Out of all the people I would miss once I graduated, she topped the list. She identified strengths I hadn’t recognized in myself and challenged me to explore them. She pushed me to face situations that scared me. And most importantly, she was the reason I joined the speech and debate team.

As my senior year rolled around, our team more than tripled in size due to the school beginning to acknowledge our success and our coach’s recruiting efforts. Students’ curiosity rose as the fine arts department received more funding and recognition. It made me happy to know the team would carry on in good hands, but it made me even happier that more people would experience the lessons and lifelong friendships that come from this activity.

Even though I haven’t returned to Midland since I graduated, I still keep in touch with my team. One of my biggest speech and debate rivals even became a good friend after high school and visited me at college. I credit speech and debate for teaching me skills I use in journalism and everyday life such as not being afraid to talk to anyone, analyzing an issue from all angles, being assertive and knowing how to dress.

In fact, two years later I sat in the lobby of a newspaper’s office waiting for my internship interview in the same suite and heels I had worn at every tournament. As I gripped my resume, I repeated responses in my head to questions the editor might ask. I tried not to focus on the other internship candidate being interviewed behind the glass wall.

I pictured walking into the conference room with my head held high and giving the editor a firm handshake.

“Next up, Katelyn Howard,” the receptionist said.