Thursday afternoon, he students of Plains High School gathered in the gymnasium for a presentation on the harms of E-cigarettes and vaping.
Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, who is from North Carolina, lives a mostly normal life with friends and family just as most Americans. The story he told was not exactly what many of the students, or teachers, expected.
When he was 14 and a freshman in high school, Kinard attended a football game and wanted to fit in with the older students. Over the course of the game he started vaping to fit in with the group.
This wasn’t the first time he had tried something like cigarettes, but it was his first experience vaping. Over the next 15 months his life took a steep downward turn.
He became addicted to using and started to do whatever he could to use more.
“I was about four pods a day deep within six months,” Kinard said.
One pod contains about 20 cigarettes worth of nicotine.
He also talked about how he was likely seriously addicted within two months. He began selling his clothes, his shoes and anything else that he could sneak out of the house to peddle online, or at school, to make money to support the habit.
He even sold some of his mother’s jewelry to get the cash for “juuling” as it is often called.
In September 2018, the addiction caught up to him and he had a seizure. Whether the cause was directly from the massive amounts of Nicotine he was ingesting, or from the lifestyle he was living, the cause was likely rooted in his habit.
Even after that he still could not believe that the vaping was causing his life to dismount. He started failing school and dropped out of sports and scouts in order to fill the time with his habit.
He became violent at home to his parents and began hanging out with a darker crowd of friends.
Soon, enough was enough.
His mother began searching for a way to help her son.
Eventually she came to the conclusion that he needed to be “locked up” as she described it. There needed to be a way to force him to stay off the stuff long enough for him to come back to himself.
She found a place that was called “Center for Discovery” located in Long Beach, California. They flew there, but the only way she could get him to go was to tell him that it would only be for a few days. As soon as he was in, he quickly found out from one of his keepers that in fact the minimum was to be 39 days.
He told the students and onlookers about his experiences during his time in the rehabilitation center. He explained how alone he felt, how miserable and useless he thought he was, and how controlled his life was by his caretakers.
Over the weeks he was there, however, he began to change. He had lost a lot of weight over the last 15 months and his face had become sunken in. He noticed the color was coming back to his skin, and his weak shaky nature that had become him was fading.
He also, most importantly, found himself. He started realizing what he had become and started finding support all around him. He regretted how he had treated his parents and didn’t believe he could deserve how they had treated him, going out of their way to help him.
When Luka left rehab, he had a contract to stay sober for another two months, however in his mind he assumed that he would just fall back into the habit and in fact, that’s what he wanted.
As the time went on at home, he found that those friends he had left behind were not as friendly or as supportive as when he had left. He lost a lot of people and started seeing how his life was now, without using. He began to see how he didn’t need to vape, and how he could live life without a nagging need that could drive him from living a good life.
Eventually he was asked to speak in front of a few groups and classes, then other schools. It grew as he began telling his story and people really listened. Eventually he made national news and had stories written about him on health publications, major news outlets and even in the Wall Street Journal.
As he finished his speech, he began to answer questions from the crowd.
The students started asking questions, surprisingly enough to their teachers and mentors, many of which that had little to do with what he had just talked about. They asked about his girlfriends, his thoughts and fears. They asked what he had learned from his experience and how to deal with their friends who might have the same addiction.
Instead of the hard numbers on vaping that would supposedly lead an adult mind, the students began to relate to Luka on a level of youth and curiosity.
He could relate to youth in a way no poster or hard numbers ever could. After his talk the students and staff applauded him.
He visited several schools across western Montana, including Polson, Thompson Falls, Charlo, St. Regis and many more.
Each had similar reactions, coming away with a different view on the darker side of addiction, whatever the root may be.