What parents need to know about JUULing, the disturbing new vaping trend

Welcome to the next generation of high-tech smoking, where e-cigarettes now resemble sleek flash-drives and are so discreet that kids can actually vape right in class. JUULing, the latest public health nightmare, is highly addictive, easy to hide and spreading in popularity like wildfire. Many schools are even struggling to combat it, the New York Times reports.

What is JUUL?

JUUL is a new vaping device, released by PAX Labs in 2015 as a smoking alternative for adults. In 2017, JUUL Labs spun off as an independent company.

The tiny device, resembling a flash drive, can easily be hidden among school supplies or concealed in pockets and backpacks. It is USB chargeable, thereby appealing to tech-savvy millennials; simple to use; and comes in a variety of kid-friendly flavors—including mango, cool cucumber, fruit medley and crème brulee.

The flavored pod attaches to the charged device, which heats up the pod’s liquid. The user then ‘draws’ on the device to inhale the vapor into his lungs. Each pod is the nicotine equivalent of 200 puffs, or an entire pack of traditional cigarettes. This is also the capacity of a single charge. Pods are generally sold in 4-packs.

Because JUULing puts off significantly less vapor than other e-cigarettes, it is extremely discreet. A rash of online videos show kids JUULing at school, exhaling into shirts or backpacks to hide the vapor, which disappears in an instant. JUUL puts off a sweet, fruity smell—easily mistakable as perfume or hair product, making it difficult for school officials and other adults to detect.

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A tobacconist dispalys new cigarette packs, plain with unbranded packaging and the health warnings, "Smoking causes nine out of ten lung cancers" (L) and "Smoking harms your lungs" (R) as part of anti-smoking legislation in a French 'Tabac' in Paris, France, January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

A tobacconist, wearing a mask, displays images which will be used for cigarette packaging during a protest in a French 'Tabac' in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, September 8, 2015. France's tobacconists are protesting plans to force cigarette companies to use plain, unbranded packaging, as part of anti-smoking legislation. Slogans read "smoking causes blindness, smoking causes peripheral vascular disease, smoking causes cancer".

(REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

A high school student looks at a mock up of plain cigarette packaging before the start of a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Packs of small cigars are displayed for sale by a tobacconist with health warnings as part of anti-smoking legislation in a French 'Tabac' in Paris, France, January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

A high school student looks at a mock up of plain cigarette packaging before the start of a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

A tobacconist sells plain cigarette packs on October 12, 2016 in Ajaccio, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.

(PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP/Getty Images)

Mock-ups of plain cigarette packaging are seen before the start of a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Cigarette packs are seen on shelves in a tobacco shop in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, September 8, 2015. France's tobacconists are protesting plans to force cigarette companies to use plain, unbranded packaging, as part of anti-smoking legislation.

(REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

High school students look at a mock up of plain cigarette packaging before the start of a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 31, 2016.

(REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

A picture taken on October 12, 2016 in Ajaccio shows cigarettes bound in neutral packaging. The first cigarettes bound in neutral packaging, with no logo's or branding but bearing graphic images of the potential health risks of smoking arrived at tobacconists across France on October 10, 2016.

(PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP/Getty Images)

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How are JUULs being marketed to teens and kids?

Along with alluring flavors, designer packaging and strategic product placement, JUULing is highly promoted via social media outlets, including Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

“There are tons of kids all over these social media using the JUUL, demonstrating how it works and how to access its ‘secret’ features such as ‘party mode,’ showing how to apply ‘skins’ or specially designed stickers to your JUUL,” says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor with Common Sense Media. “This is the type of marketing that today's kids prefer, because kids really reject traditional advertising."

JUUL ‘skins’, decorative wraps for the device, make it possible to disguise (and customize) the device with themes that appeal to kids, like colorful cartoon kittens, Star Wars and googly-eyed faces.

“Although JUUL Labs states that they market their products to adult smokers as an alternative to combustible cigarette smoking, posts with hashtags related to JUUL, like #doit4juul and #JUULnation, are wildly popular on social media platforms,” the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) observes. “These posts can be appealing to the younger crowd by making the product look cool and rebellious.” These posts are also easy for kids to access.

“I don't know whether or not the company seeded social media influencers to spread awareness of the JUUL, but they certainly didn't stop anyone,” observes Knorr. “Kids want to hear about products from friends or others who look and sound like them—which is what social media word-of-mouth marketing does.”

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Why should parents be concerned?

JUULing is a major threat to our kids’ health. JUUL pods contain high levels of nicotine, a highly addictive, damaging substance that can have severe consequences on developing brains, lungs and bodies.

“The vaping industry promotes the fact that nicotine salt—the form of nicotine used in JUULliquid—is known to produce a smoother ‘hit’ and less throat irritation than ‘free-base’ nicotine used in typical e-cigarette liquid. This may encourage users to take longer, deeper puffs, which may result in very high levels of nicotine per puff than either standard cigarettes or typical e-cigarettes,” states the CDPH. “According to the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report, exposure to nicotine during adolescence can harm brain development, which may have implications for cognition, attention and mood. Even brief periods of continuous or intermittent nicotine exposure in adolescence may cause lasting neurobehavioral damage.”

Similar to other vaping devices, JUULs contain additional harmful materials such as heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds. Even ingredients considered safe for ingestion, such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, are not proven safe for inhalation.

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Employee at Cloud 10, an e-cigarette store in Simi Valley, CA, demonstrates the type of smoke, with no smell, comes out of an electric cigarette. Sales are Booming at this store.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images

A customer exhales vapor while smoking an electric cigarette at the Betamorph E-Cigs store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Sales in the U.S. vapor-device market are projected to rise by 21% annually through 2020, based on Euromonitor Passport data.

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An e-cigarette store in Simi Valley, CA, called Cloud 10, displays various types of electric cigarettes juice flavors for sale. Sales are Booming at this store.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images)

Indonesian teenager exhaling smoke from Electric Cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as seen in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia on December 5, 2014 night. Electric cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are increasingly popular in Indonesia, especially among teenagers. In fact, cigarettes are actually more harmful than regular cigarettes with an increasing number of patients with poisoning after using electronic cigarettes and nicotine liquid continues to increase. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes, electronic cigarette brand has been produced in 466, 8,000 taste, spending budget of US $ 3 billion.

(Photo by Ivan Damanik/NurPhoto) 

Gdynia, Poland 29th, Dec. 2015 Polish Ministry of Health plans to ban electronic cigarettes sales to persons under the age of 18, restrictions on advertising and promotion and to introduce to them technical requirements. The new Tobacco Control law will come into force in the 2nd quarter of 2016. Pictured: Lady smokes electronic cigarette.

(Michal Fludra/Corbis via Getty Images)

Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand smokes an electric cigarette during day two of the World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath Golf Club on November 25, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Electric cigarette 'juice' w/various flavors.This is at Cloud 10 in Simi Valley, CA This brand is the most popular at this store. Santa Monica just passed the law no e-cigarettes allowed anywhere. Business is booming at this location.

(Lynne Gilbert via Getty Images

Mitchell Baker who works at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, exhales vapour produced by an e-cigarette on December 30, 2016 in Bristol, England. Recent figures released by the e-cigarette industry has claimed that there as many as 1700 vaping shops across the country, with two new ones opening each day catering for the estimated three million vapers in the UK. The popularity of e-cigarettes has boomed in the last ten years, as it is seen by many as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, however some critics say the devices can carry the same risks as smoking especially as the long term affects are yet to be known.

(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

E-cigarette merchandise is displayed for sale at the Vapour Place a vaping shop in Bedminster, on December 30, 2016 in Bristol, England. Recent figures released by the e-cigarette industry has claimed that there as many as 1700 vaping shops across the country, with two new ones opening each day catering for the estimated three million vapers in the UK. The popularity of e-cigarettes has boomed in the last ten years, as it is seen by many as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, however some critics say the devices can carry the same risks as smoking especially as the long term affects are yet to be known.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A reveller dressed in a Father Christmas costume smokes from an electronic cigarette device as he takes part in Santacon outside Euston Station on December 10, 2016 in London, England. Santacon is an annual parade taking place in cities around the world and sees revellers dressed in Father Christmas costumes take to the streets to spread seasonal cheer.

(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Flavored vape juice bottles are displayed for sale at the Betamorph E-Cigs store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. Sales in the U.S. vapor-device market are projected to rise by 21% annually through 2020, based on Euromonitor Passport data.

(Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette during the Vapexpo 2015 Moscow, at Sokolniki Exhibition Center on December 05, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This picture taken on November 19, 2015 shows bottles of concentrated flavors displayed at a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur. Vaping' is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit in for health reasons -- a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.

(MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A man smokes an E-Cigarette in the Vape Lab coffee bar, on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

This picture taken on November 19, 2015 shows a worker (R) inspecting a coil, the metal heating element in an e-cigarette that produces vapour from e-juices, at a vape shop in Kuala Lumpur. Vaping' is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit in for health reasons -- a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.

(MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman smokes an electronic cigarette during the Vapexpo 2015 Moscow, at Sokolniki Exhibition Center on December 05, 2015, in Moscow, Russia.

(Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A customer smokes an E-Cigarette at Digital Ciggz on January 28, 2015 in San Rafael, California. The California Department of Public Health released a report today that calls E-Cigarettes a health threat and suggests that they should be regulated like regular cigarettes and tobacco products.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

E-Cigarettes are sold at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In this photo illustration, a man smokes an E-Cigarette at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. The Department of Health have ruled out the outlawing of 'e-cigs' in enclosed spaces in England, despite calls by WHO, The World Health Organisation to do so. WHO have recommended a ban on indoor smoking of e-cigs as part of tougher regulation of products dangerous to children.

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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The CDPH also shares that some chemicals used to flavor e-liquids have been shown to cause a serious lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, when inhaled. E-cigarette use by kids is also associated with a higher likelihood of asthma. Also, the more chemicals involved in the e-juice, i.e. flavored pods, the higher toxicity involved.

There is substantial evidence that youth who use e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes—leading to additional tobacco-related diseases. E-cigarettes can be used to deliver cannabis and other drugs. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, nicotine can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine.

What else do parents need to know?

E-cigarettes are a $2.5 billion industry. Recent National Youth Tobacco surveys show that, in 2016, more than two million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the U.S. during the past 30 days, including 4.3 percent of middle school students and 11.3 percent of high school students; nearly twice that many reported current tobacco product use. The U.S. Surgeon General asserts that in 2015, more than a quarter of students in grades six through 12 had tried e-cigarettes.

Though illegal for minors, the products are not particularly difficult to obtain. According to information provided by the CDPH, kids successfully buy vaping products online 94 percent of the time. Some teens purchase products from older friends; some even sell ‘hits’ from their own JUULs to classmates.

What can we do?

Many kids are reportedly surprised to discover that JUULing is harmful—considering it a healthy alternative to smoking regular cigarettes. Talk to your kids and educate them to understand the dangers of JUULing and other forms of vaping; monitor online purchases; look for suspicious devices; and request stronger restrictions from lawmakers on e-cigarette sales.

Please visit https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/ for tips on getting the conversation started.

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