It seems like today’s latest and hottest trend is the use of a newly invented e-cigarettes called JUULs, which were released in 2017 and have skyrocketed in popularity within the last year, especially amongst teenagers. For those who are unaware of the JUUL epidemic or are unsure as to what the devices even are, a JUUL is a type of e-cigarette that utilizes nicotine salt juice that exists in tobacco leaves. The cartridges (called JUUL pods) contain about the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.
The pods are inserted at the top of the device and then produce smoke when users inhale it. They contain propylene glycol, flavorings and nicotine salts. A JUUL starter kit, including the device and a pack of four pods, is sold for about $50 at most vape shops, online stores and gas stations.
The most dangerous aspect about JUULs lies in the demographic that uses them the most: teenagers. Tyler Goldman, CEO of JUUL, stated that anyone under the legal age of smoking (18 in some areas, 21 in others) or those who do not already use products containing nicotine should refrain from using JUULs since they are specifically meant to be a healthier alternative for adults who are addicted to cigarettes.
JUUL Labs CEO Kevin Burns stated, “We are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products. We cannot be more empathetic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb expressed concern about how the JUUL can easily be disguised as a USB flash drive and delivers such a high amount of nicotine per JUUL pod.
Yet, for some reason, the newest innovation for inhaling nicotine is the most popular amongst young people and those who have not previously been nicotine users. Most likely, JUULs are merely a societal trend for people between the ages 16-24.
The main health concern expressed with the usage of these devices is that most of the consumers have no need for them. Instead of being a healthier alternative for adults addicted to nicotine, JUULs have caused millions of young people to use and become hooked on them. Gottlieb said, “In some cases, our kids are trying these products and liking them without even knowing they contain nicotine. And that’s a problem, because as we know, the nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent’s brain leading to years of addiction.”
The pods come in a variety of flavors, including mango, fruit medley and crème brûlée. In a 2017 letter to the FDA, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer criticized the company for promoting “flavors that are attractive to young people.”
However, a spokesperson for JUUL Labs denied that the company produces these flavors to attract young people. “Flavors are an important factor in getting adult smokers to switch. We are focused on meeting the preferences and needs of adult smokers interested in finding an alternative to cigarettes,” the spokesperson stated.
One major concern coming from health professionals everywhere is the fact that the long-term effects of using JUULs, or any vaping device for that matter, are currently unknown. Being such a new trend, there are no older adults that have used these devices for years and know the consequences yet.
An in-depth review of more than 800 studies on e-cigarettes (not including JUULs) published by the National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in January determined that most e-cigarette products potentially contain and emit a variety of possibly toxic substances such as aldehydes and metals. Since this review of studies did not include JUULs, however, the long-term health risks of using the devices are fairly unknown.
Although many young people who use JUULs are seemingly unaware that the products contain nicotine, there are definitely users who do know. Knowing this, why do young people who are not already addicted to nicotine consciously use this device? Perhaps they think, “Even if I do become addicted to nicotine, I can stop using the JUUL at any time and fight off an addiction pretty easily.” Young people cannot even begin to fathom how difficult it is to fight an addiction to nicotine.
To put it in perspective, think about people who have smoke cigarettes for many years. Even after having heart attacks, constricted blood vessels or premature wrinkles, they cannot simply “quit” smoking cigarettes. There is a disconnect between young people and the dangers of becoming addicted to nicotine, especially those who are using the device at the ages of 16-24, a crucial period when the brain is still developing.
To put an end to this epidemic, the dangers of using JUULs or any nicotine-based products need to be more publicized. If people continue to use the devices without giving much thought to developing an addiction, millions of people will be fighting off nicotine addiction in the coming years.