Whether you’re a cigarette smoker looking for a healthier alternative or you are a current JUUL user, you may be wondering what is and isn’t true about e-cigarettes. Are they the key to quitting smoking, or are they as dangerous as some news headlines claim?
What is JUUL and how does it work?
JUUL is an electronic cigarette that has been around since 2015. Much like other e-cigarettes, it works by heating up the cartridge, which contains oils and creates a vapor that can be inhaled. According to the company, JUUL is designed as an alternative for adult smokers. However, over recent years, JUUL has become popular among teens and young adults due to its fun, fruity flavor options and marketing. After criticism and pressure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), JUUL suspended the sale of fruit flavors and has altered their marketing strategy.
JUUL vs Cigarettes: Which is better?
Many believe that JUUL is a healthier alternative to cigarettes because it does not contain tobacco, a dangerous carcinogen. And while this is correct, JUUL pods do contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can affect brain development. In fact, one JUUL pod contains just as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. JUUL and other e-cigarette brands also contain dangerous chemicals.
According to Dr. Choi, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, there is no long-term evidence to support the claim that e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes simply have not been around long enough for us to see their true health effects. “We know that in the short-term, e-cigarettes can cause inflammation in the airways and in the lungs, and nicotine is linked to multiple health problems.” Dr. Choi adds.
Why is nicotine dangerous?
According to the Center for Tobacco Control at Northwell Health, “nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain.” Nicotine’s effect on the brain — which develops until age 25 — can reduce brain activity, alter mood, and affect memory and concentration. And nicotine’s addictive power impacts everyone, regardless of age. According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin. Nicotine has also been linked to health problems, including heart disease, ulcers, erectile dysfunction, premature birth, and sudden infant death syndrome.
What other ingredients are found in e-cigarettes?
There is a common misconception, particularly among teens, that JUUL and other brands of e-cigarettes contain nothing more than water vapor and flavoring. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this “harmless water vapor” often contains harmful substances, such as ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and cancer-causing chemicals. The chemicals vary depending on the e-cigarette brand, and in some cases, flavor. According to many medical professionals, such as Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Winickoff, there simply isn’t enough information yet about electronic cigarettes —JUUL in particular. "The chemicals in electronic cigarettes, in general, have not been tested," says Dr. Winickoff.
Due to the increase in teen e-cigarette use, as well as the recent rise of vaping-related deaths, the FDA is placing stricter regulations on e-cigarette brands as well as seeking more information on the chemicals found in these devices.
What are the facts behind the recent vaping-related deaths?
In April of this year, the FDA announced an investigation into the potential link between seizures and vaping. But it wasn’t until August that vaping-related illnesses became nationwide news when the CDC decided to investigate the rising number of e-cigarette smokers who were experiencing severe pulmonary issues. Later that month, the first vaping-related death was reported by the Associated Press. Since then, the numbers have only increased.
According to the most recent CDC data:
- At least 2,051 cases of vaping associate lung injuries have been reported
- At least 39 people have died due to vaping-related illnesses
- The youngest victim was 17 years old
- A majority of deaths have been linked to vaping products containing THC
While THC has played a role in most deaths, the CDC states that no single product has been linked to all causes of lung disease. In some states, such as California, health department officials are urging everyone to stop vaping no matter the substance or source.
Why do people vape?
Despite the controversy surrounding JUUL and e-cigarettes in general, many continue to vape. Among adults, one of the major reasons is convenience. Vaping is easier than smoking. With its sleek and discreet design, JUUL allows individuals to vape no matter where they are. And while some cities and states have laws banning vaping in public spaces, the discreet nature of the e-cigarette makes it easier than ever for individuals to hide their habit.
Others vape as an alternative to smoking -- some in hopes of lowering their use and eventually quitting all together. According to JUUL, the brand was always intended as an alternative for cigarette smokers. However, many non-smokers have started vaping. JUUL’s marketing, which many say claimed that the e-cigarette was safe, may be to blame.
This is particularly true when it comes to teens. In a recent video by SHE Media, teens shared their thoughts on vaping, with many expressing that a lot of their classmates vape and do not consider it harmful. “I think a lot of kids our age think that smoking cigarettes is the worst thing that you can do, and Juuling isn't that bad — but cigarettes [are] like whoa,” said Sabine, 14. JUUL use isn’t popular among teenagers, more and more young children are becoming exposed. Clive, 10, shared that kids often encourage others to try vaping, saying ‘oh, try vaping, it's good for you. You won't get hurt.’
Peer pressure and the desire to be cool plays a major role in teen vaping use. And due to the addictive nature of nicotine, kids often become hooked without even realizing it. “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.
Should anyone vape?
While JUUL or any one e-cigarette brand has not been linked to lung disease or death, with 39 death and countless sick, the dangers of vaping are undeniable. Unfortunately, vaping hasn’t been around long enough for medical data and studies to definitively show how dangerous e-cigarettes are. However, countless doctors, health officials, and state health departments have urged individuals to stop vaping. JUUL themselves have released ads reading:
“JUUL is for adult smokers, if you don’t smoke or vape, don’t start.”
So, if you’ve never smoked or vaped before, don’t start. If you’re an adult cigarette smoker looking for an alternative, consider quitting instead. Cigarettes are extremely addictive, which makes quitting challenging but not impossible. While vaping may be a “safer” alternative to cigarettes, both are dangerous to your health. If you’re looking for tips on how to quit smoking, visit: smokefree.gov for tips and support.