In school bathrooms, during class, on Snapchat – teens are vaping everywhere. Juul, a brand name electronic cigarette whose sleek design makes it easy to hide, has taken over schools nationwide. The slim vaporizer looks like a USB flash drive and is available in a medley of flavors. It is so common in some schools that many teens now consider it a normal part of the high school experience. School administrators, doctors, and FDA officials, on the other hand, are worried about the dangerous, long-term consequences these e-cigarettes may have on teens.
What You Need to Know About Juul
Juul was launched in 2015 as an alternative to cigarettes, designed to help smokers reduce or quit smoking. While many consider electronic cigarettes to be the lesser of two evils, there is no definitive data yet proving that electronic cigarettes are safer than traditional ones. Much like cigarettes, Juul contains nicotine. One Juul cartridge is said to be equal to roughly 200 cigarette puffs or one pack of cigarettes. And although Juul is intended to be used by adults, approximately 3.6 million teens currently use e-cigarettes.
The Rise of Juul
The relatively new brand currently makes up 70 percent of the electronic cigarette market share. Several lawmakers attribute Juul’s massive success to its marketing practices, which many believe actively targeted teens. Since its inception, Juul’s marketing has consisted of promoting its fruit-flavored pods, youth-oriented ads, social media campaigns, and exciting launch parties. The company denies that they intentionally targeted youth, but a former senior manager says the company knew their advertising would appeal to them. The FDA agrees.
“Juul representatives have said the company is not trying to target adolescents with their advertising or sales, but our research clearly indicates that a sizeable proportion of their audience is exactly this population,” said Kar-Hai Chu, Ph.D., author of a study by the Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health. The study revealed that one in four of Juul’s Twitter followers is underage.
Since its inception, Juul has had a strong social media presence. As it gained popularity, more and more photos and videos could be found when searching the hashtag #juul. Many of those photos and videos were of teens using the product. Lawmakers believe the company knew this and continued to lure teens into using the product.
In response to the heavy criticism and warnings from the FDA, Juul deleted its social media accounts, started only featuring individuals over the age of 35 in their advertisements, and halted sales of flavored pods in stores.
Teens Addicted to Nicotine
Despite Juul’s efforts to reduce its online presence, vaping is still glamorized all over social media. Teens see hashtags like #VapeLife, they see the ads, they see their friends doing it, and they don’t want to miss out. And because electronic cigarettes are marketed as safer than traditional ones, many teens are unaware that there is nicotine in Juul.
“During the last year and a half, we’ve been hearing a lot of anecdotes from kids who say, ‘The first week I was using Juul, I did it because I thought it was cool. The second week I used Juul, I did it because I had to,'” says Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
According to a survey by the University of Michigan, a majority of teens believe they are simply vaping flavoring. The reality is that 99 percent of electronic cigarettes sold contain nicotine.
Teens are becoming addicted to nicotine without realizing that they have a problem. They are going to the bathroom to vape, vaping at lunch, on the bus, and even in class every time the teacher turns around. But because it is such a socially acceptable trend among high school students, they don’t realize that their use has increased and the negative impact that it’s having on their lives.
Luka, a high school sophomore, only realized he had a problem when he began selling his clothes to support his $150 per week vaping habit. He knew his behavior had changed. He knew his grades had severely suffered. He knew he had lost interest in his hobbies. But he didn’t realize that vaping was to blame. “I thought that everybody else was making me change. I didn't think it was smoking or anything like that — I thought it was just the fact that the world is against me,” he said.
The Unknown Danger Ahead
Many teens using Juul are blindsided by their dependence to nicotine. Doctors believe this dependence could lead teens to eventually move on to traditional cigarettes, which kill 480,000 Americans per year. But aside from the possible spiral into cigarette use, doctors are concerned about the long-term effects of electronic cigarettes.
The effect that nicotine addiction may have on brain development is a primary concern. Because the prefrontal cortex doesn’t finish developing until around the age of 25, teens who consume nicotine at an early age may suffer from loss of memory, inability to focus, increased sensitivity to other substances, and greater impulsivity.
“The long-term consequences of e-cigarette use are unknown. There's no reason healthy adolescents should be exposing themselves to even potentially cancer-causing substances,” says Dr. Mark Rubinstein, an adolescent medicine physician and a professor at the University of California.
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