While cigarette smoking has declined steadily since the early 1990s among both kids and adults, it’s too early to celebrate. That’s because e-cigarette use is on the rise and there’s nothing good about e-cigarettes for kids.
Short for electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes are battery-powered smoking devices. These trendy products go by a variety of names: vapes, vape pens, e-cigs and ENDS, which stands for electronic nicotine delivery system. And, the most recent and most popular one to hit the market is called Juul.
What is a Juul?
If you use a Juul, that means you’re Juuling. A Juul is a small, sleek device that looks like a computer flash drive and can be charged by a USB port. The Juul and vape devices in general heat an e-liquid, which generates a vapor. Juul’s coolness factor has earned its the nickname of “iPhones of vapes.”
Juul first hit the market in 2015 and has quickly risen to be the most popular brand of e-cigarette with a reported 54 percent of the marketplace already. The concerning thing about the quick market domination is that while the product is, reportedly, intended for adults only, especially for adults wanting to quit smoking regular cigarettes, Juuls are especially appealing to young people.
Why Juuls appeal to kids
Here are some of the many reasons why Juuls are appealing to kids: They’re small and can be carried and hidden anywhere. They produce less smoke and, therefore, can easily be sneaked into class or other public places. Juul pods come in tantalizing flavors such as mango, cool mint, and fruit medley. Their proprietary salt-based nicotine e-liquid make inhaling their pods a smoother, less harsh vaping experience than other similar products.
E-cigarettes are thought to be safer than traditional cigarettes because they don’t contain tobacco and other toxic chemicals found in regular cigarettes. But, to help people transition from tobacco-containing cigarettes to e-cigarettes, they load them with nicotine, a highly addictive substance, to make the switch easier.
One Juul pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes
Juuls have the highest amount of nicotine of the bunch. One Juul pod, which can easily be consumed within a day, holds the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Plus, additional toxins that accompany the Juul delivery system have the potential to cause health issues down the road.
Dr. Kennon Heard, a University of Colorado School of Medicine Professor of Emergency Medicine and Section Chief of Medical Toxicology and Pharmacology, said that although Juuls may be safer than cigarettes, he would not call them safe.
“Juuls are basically nicotine delivery systems and nicotine is one of the most addictive substances around. And we know, because of that, people will continue to use them even if there does become evidence of negative health effects,” he said.
Can e-cigarettes help people quit smoking?
But does that wallop of nicotine help people quit smoking? A recent study found that the only thing all that nicotine does is to continue the addictive nature of smoking and doesn’t help someone to quit – at all.
According to a study from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University, smokers who used e-cigarettes and wanted to quit smoking, were no more likely to quit than smokers who didn’t use those products.
With the limited research available we know that, at best, e-cigarettes are merely ineffective for aiding adults who want to quit smoking. Unfortunately, when it comes to young adults who use it recreationally, it’s clear that e-cigarettes, particularly Juuls, are downright harmful.
Juuling harms kids’ brains and causes nicotine addiction
“For kids who use e-cigarettes during the time when their brain is developing, it can cause long-term permanent damage along with a lifetime dependence on nicotine,” said UCHealth Tobacco Treatment Specialist Kathleen Moreira.
Moreira goes on to explain that nicotine can impact your memory and ability to focus and concentrate. Plus, one of the more disturbing things about Juuls, she said, is that many kids don’t have any idea that there is nicotine in the pods.
“They think it’s a cool thing to do. You have a 13-year-old who’s trying a Juul for fun, but she doesn’t realize that what she’s doing is signing up for a nicotine addiction that can change the course of her brain and the course of her life in the long-term,” Moreira said. “Kids are starting with something that gives them the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. And without the visual of cigarettes in a pack, it’s hard to measure how many vapes you’re taking per day, and use can easily escalate.”
Gateway to drugs and cigarettes
But wait, there’s more bad news about e-cigarettes. Dr. Eric J. Sigel, University of Colorado School of Medicine Professor of Pediatrics-Adolescent Medicine, said that there is a correlation between cigarette use and other drugs particularly marijuana but also narcotic and prescription drugs. With the dramatic decline in cigarette use, you’d expect that other drug use would follow suit. But that has turned out not to be the case.
“With the increase in e-cigarettes, we’re seeing a sustained association [with drug use] meaning that those who use e-products are at a higher risk for using marijuana and other illicit prescription drugs,” said Sigel. “The big picture is that we believe e-cigarettes are going to cause as much harm as traditional cigarettes with regards to associated risks with behavior and substance abuse issues.”
Moreira added that e-cigarettes are also often a gateway to smoking regular cigarettes. One study, in fact, found that users of e-cigarettes were seven times more likely to pick up smoking regular cigarettes.
What parents can do
What can parents do to stop this dangerous middle school and high school activity? Talk to your kids, said Sigel. Tell them about the dangers of Juuling and that you expect them not to do it. Same goes for drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, etc. “It’s actually a very powerful message and does influence kids,” he said. “They’re less likely to use drugs if their parents give that strong message that they should not be using.”
In addition to talking with your kids, Sigel recommends modeling good behavior. If you tell your kids, not to Juul, but you do so yourself, kids will role model behavior instead of hearing your message.