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THE RISE OF THE JUUL
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THIS TEEN EPIDEMIC
There’s a public health crisis blooming in the corners of high school bathrooms and classrooms, in clouds of mango-flavored vapor exhaled from the mouths of teens. As conventional cigarette use among high schoolers remains at its lowest point in years, overall use of tobacco products among young people has seen a recent uptick as e-cigarettes surge in popularity. Chief among these devices is the Juul, a sleek, discreet e-cigarette shaped like a USB drive. Since it first became available in 2015, the Juul has dominated the e-cigarette market, claiming close to 76 percent of U.S. e-cigarette market share at the end of 2018. It was developed as a safer alternative to smoking for adults, but unfortunately, it has become extremely popular among adolescents in the U.S. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the BMJ, “Juuling,” better known as “vaping,” is now considered a trend among teens, with 1 in 4 high school seniors familiar with the devices, and a little under 1 in 10 reporting recent use. The New York Times reports that as many as 3.6 million middle and high school students currently vape. The problem has gotten so widespread that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams declared that e-cigarette use among young people has become an “epidemic.” The popularity of Juuls among teens is due to a couple of simple factors. Its attractive and covert thumb drive-like design makes it easy to use without getting caught at school. Plus Juul “juice” comes in fun, appealing flavors, like mango, strawberry kiwi, and mint, making it especially appealing to kids. The vast selection of flavors is one of the company’s major selling points, and their marketing boasts the tagline, “Discover your favorite flavor today.” But the main reason Juul users keep coming back is the same reason smokers reach for a pack of cigarettes: the nicotine itself. Each “pod” is packed with e-liquid that contains 59 milligrams of nicotine per millimeter — a much higher concentration than in other e-cigarettes — in order to mimic the buzz that regular smokers experience from traditional cigarettes. When users inhale, the device vaporizes this liquid, which is then absorbed into the body at a speed comparable to regular cigarettes. The question is how does Juuling work, and what are the risks? How worried should parents be? And, most importantly, what can they do about it? HOW IS THE JUUL DIFFERENT THAN CIGARETTES AND OTHER E-CIGARETTES?
Normal cigarettes use freebase nicotine, which can irritate the throat and lungs, but e-cigarettes use nicotine salts, which are designed to go down smoothly. The vapor doesn’t carry the clinging smell of cigarette smoke and disappears almost immediately. According to health experts, the lack of negative traits associated with traditional cigarettes — mainly the smoke and the bad smell — may lower the initial barrier to tobacco use and encourage teens to get started on e-cigarettes like the Juul, regardless of whether or not they would have engaged in tobacco use before. HOW BAD IS IT FOR YOU? Fans of e-cigarettes, especially Juul, often insist their habit is less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes. But the reality is e-cigarettes have only been available in the American market since 2007. Researchers are only just starting to realize the impact long-term e-cigarette use can have on our health. While Juuls might not as bad for you as traditional cigarettes, they are still extremely toxic and addictive. According to the National Center for Health Research, “The popularity of Juuls among adolescents exposes them to large amounts of nicotine that can have adverse health risks for their physical and emotional development.” At least one study has tentatively linked nicotine to cardiovascular issues, and it’s no secret that nicotine has been proven to be one of the most addictive chemicals in the world. Anxiety, depression, irritability, hunger, and weight gain are all symptoms of nicotine withdrawal — symptoms that pretty much every parent would like to spare their child from. SO, WHAT’S THE VERDICT? It’s clear that Juuling, vaping, and all forms of e-cigarette use are a huge danger to kids. The strategic marketing of Juul specifically seems to have successfully gained them customers for life in our nation’s youth. In 2018, the FDA announced it was cracking down on the illegal sales of e-cigarettes to minors and “kid-friendly marketing and appeal of these products.” If you’re looking to prevent your child from becoming one of the millions of teenage Juul users, simple awareness goes a long way. In one survey, most teen respondents didn’t even realize that Juul pods contain nicotine. The first step to protecting your kids from the dangers of Juul usage is to do your research and have an open conversation with them about the facts.
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