The Juul: Smoking Cessation or Gateway Drug?

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The Juul: Smoking Cessation or Gateway Drug?

Camille O'Mara, Student Editor

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Electronic-cigarette, or e-cigarette, use in teens has increased by 900% since 2015. This is because manufacturers of e-cigarettes use false advertising and predatory marketing practices to target minors. Because vaping is relatively new, there are many misconceptions about its safety. It is marketed as a smoking cessation tool, yet the FDA has not approved it as such. Kids think vaping is safer than smoking, because they mistakenly believe there is no nicotine in flavored vape liquids. Parents have never heard of it, and administrators ignore the use of it in their school halls and bathrooms. Vaping is steeped in the vapor of its own misconception. People may think vaping is without risk, but they are wrong.


The most popular e-cigarette device is manufactured by the company Juul. Juul sells 20,000,000 devices and pods every month. But what are e-cigarettes? How do they work? E-cigarettes are smokeless, battery operated devices that people use to inhale aerosol, which typically contains nicotine with flavorings and other chemicals, to the lungs. E-cigarettes, also known as vape pens, have four major components: a cartridge that holds the liquid containing various amounts of nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals, a heating element known as the atomizer that produces the aerosol (vapor), a rechargeable battery to power the atomizer, which can be charged using a USB port, and a mouthpiece for inhaling. Puffing on the mouthpiece activates the battery-powered heating device, which vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge. This is called vaping. A single cartridge can provide at least 200 puffs and is packed with 59 milligrams per milliliter of nicotine, which is equal to the amount of nicotine found in a pack of cigarettes. Scientists have no idea what the long term effects of the chemical compounds found in these devices are on adolescent lungs.


What most people don’t know about e-cigarettes is that they were originally designed to help cigarette smokers quit smoking. E-cigs are marketed as smoking cessation tools. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) never approved the e-cigarette as a legitimate smoking cessation tool. In fact, research shows that most people who used the device not only kept using the e-cigarette but continued smoking cigarettes as well!  Another study showed that adults who used e-cigarettes to stop smoking regular cigarettes were less likely to stop smoking! Findings from studies on teens suggest that those who had vaped before starting 9th grade were more likely to start smoking cigarettes within the next year. Teens who have never been exposed to nicotine can get hooked on it through vaping, which can lead to them trying traditional cigarettes as well, making vaping a gateway drug. If the FDA continues their crack down on vaping, these nicotine addicted teens will most likely have to turn to smoking regular cigarettes to get their nicotine fix.


Another common misconception about vaping is that it is a healthier alternative to smoking, but really that’s only true if you already smoke cigarettes AND you completely replace cigarettes with e-cigarettes. Because e-cigarettes don’t contain the same carcinogens as regular cigarettes, most people assume vaping is a clean alternative. But just because they don’t have the same toxic chemicals doesn’t mean e-cigarette use doesn’t expose the lungs to toxic chemicals. In fact, e-cigarette products contain formaldehyde, which is embalming fluid, and acetone, which is used as nail polish remover. Needless to say, these are chemicals that don’t belong in human lungs. Vape pen cartridges also contain an alarming amount of nicotine, which is concerning as nicotine affects brain development in teens, who are the primary users of these products. Numerous other medical problems are brought on by vaping, including infertility, mononucleosis, and popcorn lung, which is a condition that damages the small airways in the lungs.  


Unfortunately, e-cigarettes aren’t just harmful to the person using them. They are also harmful to the people around them. Because there is no smoke from a vape pen, it is easy to assume there aren’t any “second-hand smoke” effects. However, the vapor created by vape pens contains toxins that go straight to the lungs. These pollutants don’t just irritate the lining of the user’s lungs, the toxic emissions can reach anyone who breathes near the user. Vape pens create aerosol, which has larger particles than smoke. Larger particles are more damaging to the lungs. Unlike traditional cigarettes, which are prohibited in many public places in the United States, there aren’t any restrictions yet on the use of vape pens in public. This means that people can vape anywhere, affecting anyone and everyone who is nearby.


Although Juul and other major e-cigarette producing companies have yet to admit it, it is obvious these devices are targeted towards minors. Juuls resemble high tech gadgets and can be charged by plugging them into laptops, like flash drives. E-cig liquids come in typical candy-like flavors such as sour apple, mango, and watermelon. The cartridges that contain the liquids can be customized, offering bright neon covers that appeal to younger users. Vape pens have been specifically designed to be difficult to detect. They are sleek and easy to conceal. Users can even purchase candy wrapper accessories that can be used to hide the device, effectively tricking parents and teachers. Why would an adult need to hide a vape pen when it’s legal for them to have one? The vapor produced by the devices disappears instantly, making it easy for kids to vape in crowded hallways, bathroom stalls, and even in classrooms.  Finally, e-cigarette companies post alluring advertisements on social media, where they have a large presence. But there aren’t that many adults on sites like Snapchat and Instagram, which begs the question, who are these devices really being marketed towards?


Major tobacco companies know that traditional cigarettes have fallen out of favor, which is why they have started investing in the e-cigarette industry. The new generation considers smoking old fashioned and clunky, as well as unhealthy and disgusting. In contrast, e-cigarettes are clean and sophisticated. This idea is supported by the fact that in 2014, e-cig sales actually surpassed regular cigarette sales. Tobacco companies know they have to keep up with the times in order to remain successful, which means hooking a new generation on nicotine. Since 1966, every pack of cigarettes has been labeled with warnings stating the dangers of smoking. The fact that smoking is bad for humans is common knowledge, and most kids have been told that since preschool. But vaping is new. There aren’t any warnings on Juuls. Companies are taking advantage of that and once again, we’re repeating the same story of nicotine addiction throughout this country, only potentially more dangerous because it is affecting a vulnerable population, teens.


The issue is, vaping is not something the new generation, and prior generations, grew up being told was unhealthy. In fact, no one really knew it existed. It is this newness, this modern and unknown technology that might be attracting younger users. Thus, these problems won’t be easy to fix. Parents have either never heard of the devices, don’t know what they are if they see them, or assume they’re safe. We need to inform the older generation about the risks of vaping and what can be done at home, so that the new generation may stand a chance against the dangers of nicotine. Instead of pretending it doesn’t happen, schools could specifically call out vaping and related devices. Programs could be developed to educate students on the dangers of vapes and Juuls. School districts can train faculty to recognize use at school. To do that, school administrators need to educate themselves and their communities about vaping, as well as find ways to prevent vaping in schools. For instance, there are new devices installed on walls that can detect the use of e-cigarettes by filtering the air for chemicals. I bet most school districts aren’t aware of their existence. Furthermore, many adults are fooled by the predatory marketing strategies geared towards minors. Although it didn’t take scientists long to demonstrate that nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, it took decades for the public to accept the truth and even longer for tobacco companies to acknowledge it. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long to confront the toxic dangers of chemical vaping.