Will the JUUL ever be too cool for school?

Photo by Vaping360 on Foter.com / CC BY-ND

I open up the orange tube of mascara and slightly lean over the small mirror, slowly applying black liquid to my blonde eyelashes. I lightly brush my cheekbones with a pink blush, while rubbing my lips together with a fresh coat of sparkly gloss.

I could hear the front door slam from my bedroom. I quickly shut off the makeup light, grab my iPhone, and walk down the stairs. I take the cord to the large speaker and plug in my pregame playlist. Girls quickly begin to file into the house, tossing sweatshirts and jackets on the beat-up green living room couch, exposing suggestive Saturday night outfits.

The house begins to vibrate to the beat of the music. A red strobe light flashes, making the dark room periodically come to life. A small group of freshmen girls are dancing and singing along playfully, jumping up and down, grinding on their friends, and eclipsing small streams of smoke from their mouths.

“STOP THE MUSIC,” yells Lily.

“Why?” I respond. I slowly turn down the music.

Lily quickly gets her friends together, looking underneath the alcohol filled table, moving chairs out of the way.

“I can’t find it. I can’t find my JUUL,” Lily nervously explains.  The frantic search continues.

“Lily is this one yours?” says her friend Sara, while holding up a sleek, black JUUL. 

Lily rips the JUUL out of Sara’s hand, attempting to read the serial code engraved in the back of the device. A smile spreads across Lily’s face. “False alarm, I found it,” giggled Lily.

I pick up my phone from the top of the speaker, open up Spotify, and press play again. The music begins to fill up the empty spaces of the living room. Girls begin to sing along to the music and dance to the beat.

I walk over to another group of girls passing around a JUUL. Some begin to cough immediately, others point their mouths to the ceiling, slowly exhaling a thick stream of white vapor. Bella, a Freshman standing in the circle, nervously watches as each of the girls take a rip of her JUUL. Eventually, one of the girl’s hands Bella back the JUUL, and she walks towards another group of dancing girls.

At the party, the JUUL is seen as a sleek, prized possession. Everyone seemed to want to talk to Lily and Bella and dance near them, simply to get that little head buzz from one rip of the JUUL.

Our generation has been taught to consider smoking cigarettes as uncool, harmful, and even disgusting. The combination of a lack of cool factor and the abundance of research proving the health risks of smoking cigarettes, has diminished their popularity, replacing them with e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes were designed as a way to help adults quit smoking cigarettes. But, one particular brand of e-cigarette, JUUL, has generated an entirely new consumer population – non-smoking young adults. Unlike other e-cigarette brands, the JUUL is a small, skinny, black device, which resembles a flash drive, making it extremely easy to always have on hand. The vapor pods, which are infused with nicotine, come in fun flavors, such as Cool Mint and Mango.  The attractive, sleek nature of the device combined with the appealing flavors of nicotine pods has popularized the JUUL, turning a smoking alternative into a fad among high school and college students. Young adults are now becoming addicted to nicotine without ever smoking a real cigarette. When it comes to e-cigs, JUUL dominates, with 68 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market. 

There is very little research about the potential health risks of smoking an e-cigarette. But, according to the Surgeon General, nicotine exposure, whether from cigarette or from vaping, can be harmful to teens who’s brains are still developing.  

Is the JUUL specifically marketed to teens?

Like cigarettes, their electronic version is, without a doubt, controversial. E-cigarettes and vaping have become extremely popular among teenagers and young adults. This begs one to question why the JUUL in particular became so popular among young adults and teenagers in the first place?

What is most concerning about the JUUL is that it is intentionally marketed to teenagers and young adults . Currently, JUUL is under FDA investigation based on allegations that the company has been specifically marketing their nicotine products to teenagers and young adults.

“From our perspective, this is not about getting adults to stop smoking… this is about getting kids to start vaping, and make money and have them as customers for life,”  said Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healy to the New York Times.

No other e-cigarette is like the JUUL. It stands out amongst the crowd. Why? It has a cool factor like no other product. It’s small, black, sleek, and extremely easy to carry around. No wonder high school and college kids are attracted to this vaping device – it’s intriguing. Also, the flavor of the pods makes the device actually enjoyable to smoke. A smoking device that looks cool and tastes good? Sounds more like a toy than an alternative for smokers to quit cigarettes.

The plot thickens. Not only is the device itself attractive and intentionally appealing to the younger generation, but the JUUL advertisements also target young adults. Below is a JUUL advertisement released in July of 2015. Look at the bright and energetic colors, the sleek and sexy device; this immediately catches the eye. But, the most interesting aspect of this particular JUUL advertisement is the young, beautiful, healthy looking models. These girls are specifically made to look like they are having fun while using this device, as opposed to an adult looking to quit smoking cigarettes.

“JUULS are the new ‘cigarette’… the new public health problem,” said Dr. Chrysan Cronin, a public health professor at Muhlenberg College. “The marketers of JUUL specifically added nicotine to the fluid, an addictive substance to be sure they hooked kids on their product early. It is just as difficult to quit vaping as it is to quit smoking,”  continued Cronin.

In an attempt to stop the younger generation from using tobacco products and e-cigarettes, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced the formation of a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan.  Thanks to Gottlieb’s Youth Protection Program and the impending FDA investigation, JUUL’s marketing strategy has significantly altered since July of 2015. JUUL has changed the age minimum of models from at least 21 years old, to over the age of 35.  Now, the company is only using real adults who quit smoking cigarettes and are smoking the JUUL instead.  But, the younger generation has already been targeted, and the addiction to the cool factor is hard to shake.

Young adults are at the most risk

Over the past few years, the FDA has taken an aggressive approach in an attempt to prove the health risks of vaping. As of now, the FDA is certain about one thing – “the nicotine inhaled while vaping is less a concern for adults than these toxins, but it remains a serious health issues for teenagers, who’s brains are still developing.”  Because young adults are at the most danger for harmful side effects, this makes the device’s popularity among young people that much more concerning.

Teenagers and young adults who are addicted to the JUUL may believe the flavorful pods are good for their taste buds, but these pods are certainly not good for their health. “We are also now finding out that vaping and vapor from e-cigarettes also contains a number of carcinogens and other harmful chemicals. In addition, we know that nicotine, the addictive substance both tobacco and vaping fluid, causes arteries,” said Cronin. “So, by preventing exposure to these substances, we are in essence, preventing cancer and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases associated with them,” continued Cronin.

FDA proves that e-cigarettes have become a gateway to smoking cigarettes

There have been multiple studies which prove that e-cigarettes have ironically transformed from a device intended to help adults quit cigarettes, into a gateway device to smoking cigarettes.

According to a study conducted by the University of Pittsburg Schools of the Health Sciences, their study found some interesting information regarding the gateway ability e-cigarettes, like JUUL, can have on young adults. “Young adults who use electronic cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes within 18 months as their peers who do not vape.”

Additionally, a 2017 study conducted by the American Journal of Medicine found extremely similar results. For example, the study “found that non-smoking young adults were four times more likely to start smoking traditional tar-burning cigarettes after about 18 months of vaping”

How do we make the JUUL “uncool?”

JUUL is a multi-billion dollar company  making money off of addiction. The FDA is making strides in the right direction by forcing JUUL internal policy change, the adjustment of marketing strategies, and the attempt to rid shelves of teen targeted pod flavors. But, the power of addiction has already infiltrated the younger generation.

“We cannot risk a whole generation of kids getting addicted to nicotine. We must put strategies in place now to help those who are already addicted quit. We will take additional actions in the coming months to address the public health concern of youth e-cigarette and other tobacco product use with the goal of slowing and ultimately reversing these troubling trends,”  said Gottlieb in his press release.

Clearly, Gottlieb is concerned about the growing popularity among young people surrounding the JUUL. Even though more troubling health information continues to be released, teenagers and young adults are unfazed.

In order to protect young adults and teenagers from addiction and the harmful side effects, awareness is crucial. Let’s strive to make the JUUL as uncool as cigarettes.

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