Chances are, you’ve heard of JUUL (especially recently with announcements of a potential ban). Like any phenomenon and trend, the word itself may cause an immediate response: recognition, mocking, maybe even confusion. But like any phenomenon or trends, especially one that’s mostly popular with teenagers and young adults, everyone has an opinion on them.
For those who don’t know, JUUL is a kind of e-cigarette or vape. First created in 2015, JUULs look like flashdrives and are skinnier than standard vapes, providing the tobacco through flavored pods. Each JUUL pod contains about 200 puffs, with the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Though they were initially created to help adult smokers on their journey to quit, they captured the attention of adolescents, and their popularity boomed.
Statistics have shown that up until recently, the rates of tobacco and drug use among adolescents has been decreasing. This has started to change in the past couple of years, where teenagers are actually starting to increase their tobacco use. Naturally, the most popular product for tobacco is through e-cigarettes: 1 in 5 high schoolers reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, as well as 1 in 20 middle schoolers. Both of these are higher than the statistics reported in 2011. There’s a connection between the rise of e-cigarette use and general smoking habits as well: tobacco use in middle and high schoolers started to increase again in 2017, at the same time that e-cigarette use specifically started to spike.
JUUL has a strong social media presence, which may explain the reason that it attracted so many adolescents. For example, JUUL used to pay social media influencers to advertise their product on their pages. Although this has been discontinued and only involved a few influencers, the power of social media can have a giant impact on many with just one account. If one popular person posts about a product, word of mouth and reshares can immediately reach thousands of people. Teens will also share posts of themselves vaping in an effort to feel accepted by their peers.
Another way that JUUL has attracted adolescents is because of the way they advertise their flavored pods, which makes adolescents think that the product is less dangerous. Because JUUL advertises that their product will help people stop smoking cigarettes (which also has teens think the product isn’t as harmful), studies show that vaping can actually lead to cigarette use.
Statistics also show that there is a connection between those with mental health issues and tobacco use: nearly half of those who consume cigarettes have a form of mental illness. This is also true for adolescents (especially since most adult smokers tried smoking for the first time when they were teens): Interviews with adolescents with mental illnesses have mentioned that they also turn to smoking when they are experiencing stress or anxiety, feeling that it will calm them down.
Given the frequent use of social media by adolescents, the increase of mental illness diagnoses in adolescents, and the connection between drug use and mental health in youth, it isn’t a surprise that e-cigarettes are causing tobacco use in adolescents to start increasing again. Many have noted this: the FDA has threatened to ban JUUL and is investigating their marketing tactics, referring to it as an epidemic. The effects of nicotine are still there, which are significantly more harmful for adolescents, whose brains are still developing. This includes being more vulnerable to addiction, so those who start at a young age are likely to continue smoking into adulthood.
While the message is getting out that JUULs and other e-cigarettes are just as harmful as “regular” smoking, it’s easier said than done to stop a harmful trend, especially for youths, and especially for those who think that it helps them cope with issues like mental health.
Do you smoke, or know anyone who smokes? Why do you think JUULs and e-cigarettes are popular with adolescents? What’s your opinion on them? What do you think can be done to help adolescents stop smoking?