Vaping — inhaling the aerosol vapor produced by an e-cigarette — isn’t a new activity among teenagers, but the products and packaging have become more camouflaged. A new type of vaping, called JUULing, features a flash drive-like design that can be easily tucked away in a closed fist, and the liquid used in it comes in kid-friendly flavors like fruit medley to crème brûlée. Add it all together and it’s easier than ever for kids to vape right under their parents’ and teachers’ noses.
The Lowdown on the Latest Teen Trend
Although JUUL products are made for adults, a sizable number of underage teens are experimenting with the devices. Amanda Holm, MPH, who manages Henry Ford’s Tobacco Treatment Services, explains what parents need to know about JUUL.
Q: What is JUUL?
A: Developed in 2016 to help adults stop smoking, the JUUL device is essentially an e-cigarette in a sleek, inconspicuous package. The small vaporizer relies on disposable pods of flavored nicotine juice. The device heats up the flavored juice to create a vapor, which the users inhale. It can be recharged in a USB port.>
Q: Who can purchase JUUL products?
A: The company that makes JUUL claims the device is intended only for adults. Prospective buyers who visit the company’s website must verify that they’re 21 prior to purchase. But rules for retail stores vary according to state laws. Many allow anyone age 18 and over to purchase JUUL products. Kids are getting them on resale sites online, as well as from peers and even non-compliant brick-and-mortar retailers.
Q: What are the health risks?
A: In general, experts believe vaping likely poses fewer health risks than smoking because the process doesn’t burn tobacco. But we don’t have solid, long-term evidence about the health outcomes – and it may be just as addictive as cigarettes. Each cartridge contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. In addition, the flavoring agents that make the vapor taste like pineapple or vanilla are approved by the federal government as food additives, not as chemicals to inhale into the lungs, so they represent an unknown health risk. Preliminary studies suggest vaping may lead to respiratory concerns, including persistent cough and bronchitis, and there’s some evidence to suggest that teens who vape are more likely to take up cigarette smoking. Plus, vaping fluid and devices can be deadly for infants and small pets if they get access to them.
Q: Does JUULing help smokers quit?
A: The evidence isn’t clear. Some studies suggest that smokers who are trying to quit may be less successful if they use e-cigarettes. So if someone’s goal is to quit smoking we recommend medications that the FDA has approved because they are proven to be safe and to help people quit.
Q: What are some signs that your kid is hooked?
A: The appeal of JUUL for many teens is likely that it’s not easy to detect. There’s no telltale smoke odor to give it away. In fact, there may be no outward signs that a kid is hooked. Your best bet is to keep the lines of communication open. If you’re concerned your teen is vaping, talk to them. Ask if they know kids who are JUULing. And if you see something that looks like a USB drive in their backpack, don’t assume it’s harmless.
Whether your child is JUULing or not, it’s important to discuss topics like vaping and drug use. The reality is, many kids are NOT experimenting with these products, so it’s worthwhile to correct kids’ perceptions that “everyone is doing it.” Start with a non-threatening question like, “Have you heard about JUUL?” – and pay attention to their reaction.
If they say they’re vaping, don’t let it go. Get help. Vaping devices – JUUL and otherwise – are addictive and may come with serious health risks.
Amanda L. Holm, MPH, is the immediate past chair of Tobacco-Free Michigan and project manager for Tobacco Treatment Services for the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.