The smoky vapor I walked through outside the store smelled like the Juicy Fruit gum that I loved as a kid. As I wheeled to locate the source of the scent, three young teens turned slightly away. The tension in their body language was unmistakable: we’re doing something that we may not be proud of, but it’s not illegal either – yet. Welcome to teen vaping.
So what’s the difference between vaping and juuling? Both terms refer to the consumption of e-cigarettes through inhalation of heated nicotine vapor. Vaping is a broader term describing all e-cigarettes. Juul is a brand name that uses a simpler disposable cartridge to deliver as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. A Juul uses a small, easily concealed rechargeable battery device which emits less vapor.
The group at the store may have been inhaling Juul e-cigarettes. There was a big cloud of vapor, but there were three of them to contribute to it. One of Juul’s popular features is its discreet functioning; in comparison to other vaping methods, there’s less vapor to attract mom or teacher radar to a single user. As I scanned their hands, there was nothing visible to give away what they were doing; no obvious device, nothing but a quickly dissipating sweet cloud and that slightly guilty look.
My research brought me to the Centers for Disease Control where I found disturbing information. As a parent of a 13-year-old myself, my concern about vaping devices has driven me to better understand this trend.
First, the big picture – the CDC found that 27% of all high school students use tobacco products. Out of that group, almost 21% are consuming nicotine through e-cigarettes.
It’s clear that e-cigarettes are the biggest entry point for teens to nicotine. A company named Juul Labs has risen over the past few years to dominate this market.
How does a Juul Compare to Vaping with Other E-Cigarette Delivery Systems?
A Juul is a small device of about 3 inches long, which looks like a long USB stick, flash drive or memory device. It may be gray or wrapped in another color. It separates into two pieces. A small charger fits into a computer USB port. A slim rectangular-shaped piece contains an atomizer. A replaceable cartridge (Juulpod) fits into the top.
Juulpods contain 0.7 ml of fluid and either 3% or 5% nicotine. The higher dosage is the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes and each pod is roughly equivalent to 200 puffs. The listed ingredients are glycerol, propylene glycol, flavor, nicotine and benzoic acid. The company’s proprietary delivery system of nicotine salts and benzoic acid deliver a jolt of nicotine that closely mimics the effects of a tobacco cigarette on the body.
Juulpods come in 4 flavors: Virginia Tobacco, Cool Mint, Mango, and Creme Brulee. In response to the criticism of kid-friendly branding, the company is in the midst of renaming these flavors and they are inconsistently labelled on its website.
Contrasted with a wide assortment of vaping devices, a Juul is small, unobtrusive and looks like an electronic device.
The vapor emitted through inhalation of a Juul pod can be somewhat hidden by exhaling into the collar of clothing, a sleeve or into a backpack.
In contrast, other e-cigarette or vape devices come in a wide range of colors, sizes and shapes.
Image Source:Center for Disease Control
Some are disposable, such as those which mimic the appearance of a tobacco cigarette. Others resemble a small medical device, like a souped-up asthma inhaler. Most are made of similar components like these: a coil to heat the e-juice into vapor, a refillable tank to hold the e-juice, a wick, a charger and a tip inhaler. Most have greater vapor output compared the Juul.
In general, vaping equipment requires maintenance. Juul kits are less complicated to operate. An additional benefit the no-fuss Juul offers the user is that there are few moving parts to maintain.Using a Juul is as as easy as charging it up in a USB port and switching out a pod cartridge when the last one (again, equivalent to a pack of cigarettes) is empty.
The design of the Juul is easily concealed, low maintenance, available in sweet flavors, and for a single user, emits no big vapor cloud like the one I experienced with the teens outside the store. It can easily fit in the palm of a hand and in a skinny jeans pocket without detection.
Easy, sleek, high-tech and tasty – what a killer combination to pull in the kids.
What’s in it?
Image Source:Center for Disease Control
What is in e-cigarette aerosol? The aerosol that delivers the nicotine to a user can contain other substances such as very fine particles which penetrate deeply into lung tissue. There may also be other chemicals present such as diacetyl, a compound linked to lung disease. Brands of e-cigarettes are highly variable in the kinds of chemicals and trace metals that accompany the nicotine.
Juul’s Place in the E-Cigarette Market
As of this year, Juul products have overtaken other e-cigarette competition to capture over 70% of sales of the total vape market. The runaway sales of Juul kits and Juul pods are benefiting from aggressive marketing and wide appeal to teens. Juul Labs claims it’s not targeting the under-eighteen market. Amid the controversy and increasing pressure from several states’ attorney generals, the company has taken steps to launch an anti-smoking campaign on its website. Juul Labs also retooled the advertising approach to replace the early social media push of young-looking models. It’s advertising now features adult testimonials.
Despite these efforts, it seems as though the genie is out of the bottle. So how big of a problem is this for teens?
What Are the Effects of Consuming E-cigarettes for Teens?
Consumption of e-cigarettes by teens is a relatively new trend. Lack of long-term data makes it difficult to determine what the total effects of e-cigarettes (as a subset of nicotine use) will be on users over the years.
The Vulnerable Teen Brain
Adolescent brains are especially vulnerable to nicotine itself and to the host of chemicals required to ensure consistent delivery of the drug. Adding to the problem, the Juul brought to the market an innovation which has fueled both its rapid success and its highly addictive properties. A Juul pod mixes nicotine with benzoic acid, which delivers a quick and powerful jolt of nicotine. This mimics the effects of an actual cigarette on the body to a greater degree than other e-cigarette brands.
The study of nicotine as a substance by itself has a longer track record. Research shared by The National Institute on Drug Abuse in an article series titled Tobacco, Nicotine, and E-Cigarettes suggests that nicotine affects the teen brain’s ability to develop its prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that doesn’t fully develop until age 25. In addition, the studies show that the teen brain is uniquely vulnerable to addiction; nicotine can act as a gateway to other addictive substances by setting the stage for later substance abuse. See also: The effects of alcohol on my Teen’s development: Should I Let My Teen Drink at Home?
The Centers for Disease Control identify Juuling as a significant obstacle in reducing e-cigarettes consumption among teens. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC expressed concern in a recent statement, “The popularity of JUUL among kids threatens our progress in reducing youth e-cigarette use. We are alarmed that these new high nicotine content e-cigarettes, marketed and sold in kid-friendly flavors, are so appealing to our nation’s young people.”
Less Perceived Stigma than Cigarettes
Adding to the problem is the perception of teens about the differences between smoking actual tobacco products vs. vaping products like the Juul. The problem is this: Even teens who consider smoking cigarettes as a distasteful habit are getting pulled into Juuling. The addiction to the nicotine contained in a Juul Pod is quick and strong. Experts at the CDC worry that the Juul can be a gateway device which will influence teens to begin smoking and perhaps even to use the Juul to inhale other substances such as THC, the active chemical in marijuana.
It is an ironic twist that the company’s declared intent in reducing the number of tobacco smokers is instead creating an entire new market of nicotine-addicted teens who then may then turn to tobacco cigarettes.
Though the Juul company has launched youth education initiatives designed to educate teens under 21 about the dangers of vaping, the United States Food and Drug Administration reportedly believes that the company’s marketing through social media and product design has been aimed at teens all along. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FDA confiscated thousands of marketing and design documents on October 2, 2018 in a surprise visit to Juul Labs headquarters.
How do Teens Get Vaping Products like the Juul?
It’s illegal to market vaping products of any kind to teens. Federal law prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18 and some state laws extend that age to 21. Brick and mortar store personnel (such as convenience store cashiers) are required to check identification of anyone under the age of 27 and sell to only those with verified age. Any vending machine which sells electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDs) must be installed in an adults-only building.
So how are teens getting vaping products? Good question. The FDA, alarmed by the rapid spread of e-cigarettes usage in schools as reported by officials across the country, has launched a crackdown on retailers which may not be complying with laws. According to the FDA website, officials completed an undercover nationwide “blitz” of all stores between June and August, 2018, delivering more than 1300 complaint letters and fines to companies found in violation of FDA regulations covering the sale of ENDS products.
Still, teens with ready cash or access to credit cards have a variety of methods to getting their hands on the products and getting around the age requirement. They may have older friends or relatives buy for them. They may turn to online platforms such as Ebay or Craigslist to locate private sellers.
Costs of Purchase
A starter pack bought through a retail stores costs about $35. Packs of four nicotine refill cartridges sells for $16. The cost is similar when acquired through the Juul company website, where a starter pack plus four Juul pods are $49.99.
Predictably, an online resale market has sprung up to compete with fixed-location retailers and direct sales by the Juul Labs company website. They skirt the age requirements and offer the starter kit with Juul pods at a lower price, such as this posting from Craigslist.
JUUL 100% AUTHENTIC STARTER1 KIT + 4 PODS FREE SHIP!!
LATEST VERSION BRAND NEW COMES WITH 4 INDIVIDUAL POD
Guaranteed by Fri, Nov. 2
Buy It Now
What can parents do?
1. Learn the Risks
Arm yourself with information from these websites:
National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens: Tobacco, Nicotine, & E-Cigarettes
U.S.Surgeon General: Know the Risks: E-Cigarettes and Young People
2. Talk to Your Teen
The U.S. Surgeon General suggests starting a conversation with your teen with an approachable tone instead of an accusatory one. Try some of these talking points and approaches in Talk with Your Teen About E-cigarettes: A Tip Sheet for Parents.
See also: How to Can I Talk With My Teen
3. Watch for the Signs
Use your senses to detect vaping equipment. Look for unfamiliar technology. Pay attention to sweet-smelling odors in your teen’s presence, on clothing, or in a backpack.
Look for symptoms. Tell-tale signs of vaping include dry mouth and skin, red eyes, and increased acne.
Get some insight into the teen subculture that has sprung up around vaping. Watch this short public service video created by the State of California Tobacco Control Program.