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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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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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.