During my high school years a certain group of students would smoke in the bathrooms, but teens today are vaping in the bathrooms, between classes in the hallways and right in the classroom, with many teachers not even aware of what is going on. The tool of choice seems to be a JUUL (pronounced jewel), a device that resembles a USB drive, and so small you can literally put it in your fist and no one will be the wiser. Many participants in the Florida Tobacco Prevention Training for Educators online course report the devices in their schools throughout Florida, but our state isn’t unique as the trend seems to be throughout the U.S. So why has this device become so popular among teens?
The JUULpods, pictured in the upper left only come in six color-coded flavors (cool cucumber, a limited flavor, not shown) so you would think it wouldn’t be as popular as refillable devices with over 7,000 flavors. But what it gives up in flavors, it makes up in nicotine strength, and it only comes in one strength. The secret comes from the benzoic acid “which transforms the freebase nicotine into a salt of nicotine” which gives you that higher hit. The 50 mg of nicotine per ml of e-liquid provides a hit similar to a conventional cigarette, and it appears the hit “is like no other e-cigarette on the market,” according to the JUUL review by eCig One, an E-cigarette review on the web.
The other attraction is the micro size which is easily hidden in a pocket, backpack, a Sharpie marker, or even in your hand. The JUUL USB charger (pictured to the left, the 4th picture) looks like a normal USB drive (pictured right) but is magnetic to charge the tall, rectangular battery. It is not uncommon for students to charge the USB from their laptops during a class and the teacher will never know. A fully charged battery will give you about 200 puffs, which should last for the duration of the pod which is the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes.
Yes, the trend is worrisome, but not just because kids are using them in the classroom. While researchers have studied the health effects of cigarette use for decades, vaping devices haven’t been on the market long enough to learn about all the damaging effects caused by the e-liquid chemicals or the effects on health over a prolonged period.
According to the JUUL support site, their “juice” contains propylene glycol and glycerol, benzoic acid and nicotine, natural oils, extracts and flavor. Propylene glycol is used in a variety of consumer products such as processed food, medications and cosmetics and is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. However, there is one important point that needs to be made, there aren’t “any sort of extensive human-based research on its safety,” nor was it tested for inhalation over long periods. Current research has found that propylene glycol can cause problems such as skin irritation and allergic reactions. It could hurt kidney and liver function, and it’s “probably not safe” for pregnant woman and babies. And respiratory issues have been found after inhaling the chemical. As for the natural oils, extracts and flavor, what is the chemical make-up and how can they affect you?
One of the most damaging chemicals is nicotine which is not only addictive, but hurts brain development. According to the Surgeon General’s report on E-cigarettes, “the part of the brain responsible for the decision making and impulse control is not yet fully developed during adolescence.” Teens are more likely to take risks that result in not only nicotine addiction but mood disorders, mental health changes, and “permanent lowering of impulse control.” Nicotine works as a stimulant and a sedative. according to Psychology Today. It releases adrenaline which in turn increases blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. Many nicotine users many be slightly hyperglycemic because it also suppresses insulin output. Dopamine is released in the brain areas that control pleasure and motivation. Over time users build up a tolerance which means more nicotine is needed to produce the same feel-good effects. We know there are some negative health affects from vaping, but many are still unknown.
Will any of this information cause the teens to quit using this product? Probably not. It’s all about being cool, and right now “having it (JUUL) in your hand makes you look” cool. The teens know who has them, where to get them, who to buy them from, and where to use them at school. States need to increase the tobacco age to 21 and internet sales of vaping products need to be banned before we will see a decrease in use. Until that time, we need to educate the parents on this problem. This isn’t a right-of-passage, this is a life-long addiction that their kids are hiding from them.
Teenagers Embrace JUUL, Saying It’s Discreet Enough to Vape in Class
Picture of hand hold a JUUL from article above
Nicotine information: Psychology Today