- April 4, 2018
The Teen E-Cigarette Epidemic
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt noticed teens and young adults “vaping” everywhere. Although electric cigarettes are arguably healthier than smoking actual cigarettes, many young people are using e-cigarettes for fun instead of using them as an alternative to smoking.
Can you blame them? Vape juice comes in all sorts of flavors and the e-cigs themselves are continually coming out in new and colorful designs. In fact, this influx in use among young people is not happening by accident. Tobacco companies have always gone after the youth and young adults to sustain sales. Now electric cigarette companies are doing the same thing.
One company, in particular, is making huge waves in the e-cig market, JUUL. The JUUL e-cig looks nothing like a cigarette, instead, it looks like a USB thumb drive. Because of its discreet design, teenagers are bringing them to school and using them in class.
“We go for a walk. We stop in the bathroom. It’s not uncommon to see a circle of kids passing it around,” said Steve Lehman, a High School Principal in PA. “That’s where we confiscate.”
The e-cigarette device can quickly be recharged on a laptop, come in colorful designs, and users can buy liquid-filled cartridges in flavors like crème brulee, mango, and fruit medley. Mimicking candy, JUUL is marketing to younger populations with these fun flavors.
“The idea that tobacco industries, including cigarettes or JUULs, are putting flavors in or having flavors because they want to promote this to adults is ridiculous,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and pediatrics professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Youths, first of all, think that the flavors are for them, not for adults, and they are definitely more flavor-sensitive than are adults, so the FDA absolutely needs to regulate flavors.”
Public health officials are concerned by the rapid pace the JUUL craze has caught on.
“People JUUL at parties, JUUL when they’re driving — it’s a social thing. They’re JUULing all the time,” said 17-year-old student.
The company has tried to appear as though it’s not looking to capture the young market. The website asks users if they are 21 or older and states that the device is not for teens.
“At JUUL Labs, we are innovating to improve the lives of adult smokers. In addition, see how we are actively combating underage use of nicotine products,” writes JUUL on its website.
The creators of JUUL claim that they made the device as a “satisfying alternative” to cigarettes.
“JUUL was developed with the smoker in mind. In 2007, James Monsees and Adam Bowen – both graduate students in the Stanford design program – co-founded JUUL because they’d been smokers for many years and were increasingly dissatisfied with the health and social impacts of cigarettes. Wanting to create a true alternative to combustible tobacco products, James and Adam knew that smokers who want to switch are looking for something that does not look or feel like a cigarette. The result was JUUL,” according to the company’s website. “We are committed to eliminating cigarettes and providing smokers with a true alternative.”
But, JUUL hasn’t received FDA approval to be sold as a smoking cessation like the nicotine patches and gums on the market.
The company claims that the understated design was developed to help smokers switch from traditional cigarettes.
“It is not intended to be discreet. It was not designed to look like a flash drive,” said Christine Castro, the company’s spokeswoman. “It was designed specifically and intentionally to help smokers switch.”
Regardless of what the company claims, JUUL has been quickly woven into the teenaged culture.
“We’re very concerned about JUUL because it has become such a popular product among young people very, very rapidly,” said Robin Koval, CEO of the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit youth anti-smoking organization.
JUULing is different than vaping. It’s described as being more intense and has 5% nicotine in one JUUL cartridge, which is equivalent to a pack of cigarettes.
“We know that nicotine has effects on young people’s cognitive development. If you become addicted to nicotine at a younger age, it makes you more susceptible to other addictions later on. It makes it harder to quit nicotine, whether that’s from an e-cigarette-type product or combustible product,” said Koval.
Sadly, some of the teens don’t even know that the devices have nicotine.
Some schools have gone as far to ban flash drives to hinder the JUUL craze.
Vaping, in general, has spiked at schools.
“In the last few years, vaping with e-cigarettes has taken off. In 2017, 18.5% of 8th graders said they had ever vaped, up from 17.5% the previous year. That compared with 9.4% who had ever smoked cigarettes, down from 9.8% the previous year, according to researchers at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor,” writes the Wall Street Journal.
The long-term effects of these e-cigarettes are still unknown. So it’s undetermined if JUULing is better than smoking.
“E-cigarette vapor generally contains fewer toxic substances at lower levels than smoke from cigarettes, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published earlier this year. While the vapor may be less hazardous than tobacco smoke, it isn’t risk-free. A study of 103 high-school students in the San Francisco area published last month in Pediatrics showed that measured levels of toxic substances such as acrolein and propylene oxide were significantly higher in teen e-cigarette users than non-users,” writes the WSJ.
What better way to send our children into the world than with a brand new addiction. These are the same techniques used to hook youngsters on cigarettes in the past. E-Cigarette companies can claim they want to prevent young people from using their products, but until they stop marketing to them, their words mean nothing. At the end of the day, these companies make money off of addiction.