The health consequences of smoking are detrimental. Not only do first-hand users experience long-term ill-effects, but those exposed to smoke directly (second-hand), or indirectly (such as on clothing – called third-hand smoke), are also at risk.
As a result, companies started marketing a “safe” new alternative to conventional cigarettes: Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). These cigarettes now come in a variety of forms and include vape mods, JUULs and vape pens. And while a lot of these products were designed to help cigarette smokers transition off of smoking, they’ve become increasingly popular among younger crowds. Instead of helping a user transition off their smoking habit, JUULing has become the next “cool” trend among younger generations.
According to The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Teen vaping (and JUULing) has reached “epidemic proportions (1).” Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner, stated in an FDA news release that “We cannot allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine.” I couldn’t agree more.
What is JUULing?
JUULs are essentially a stealthy e-cigarette. They’re so discreet that most people don’t even recognize them as an e-cig (they look more like a USB flash drive). The JUUL device heats up a cartridge containing oils (called JUULpods) to create vapor, which quickly dissolves into the air.
JUULpods contain the flavor-containing oils (like mint, mango and creme brûlée), as well as nicotine. According to the product website, a single JUULpod is equal to the pack of cigarettes, or 200 cigarette puffs, in terms of nicotine dosage (2). Taking this into consideration, JUULing isn’t just a habit that someone could easily give up. Nicotine is an addictive chemical, which according to research, has long-term impacts on brain development in adolescents (3).
How Bad is JUULing?
JUULpods contain a number of questionable ingredients. The most controversial ingredient in the debate over teen vaping is nicotine. As a product designed to wean smokers off of traditional cigarettes, nicotine is required. Ideally, it would work in a similar fashion to a nicotine patch, providing small hits of nicotine that are decreased over time until the user can go without. However, one 5% strength JUULpod contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Vaped over the course of the day or passed between friends, teens can unknowingly inhale a large amount of nicotine that is highly addictive and can lead to serious health issues.
Other potentially harmful ingredients in JUULpods include:
1. Propylene Glycol – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies propylene glycol as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) additive. It is used in consumer goods like cosmetics and food, as well as an additive in theatrical smoke used in entertainment productions. There is not a lot of research published on the health effects of propylene glycol exposure, but some studies have found a link between glycol aerosols and respiratory health issues.
2. Additives – While the exact ingredients of the flavor additives in JUULpods and other e-liquid products are unknown, studies have found that e-cigarette vapor often contains cancer-causing “volatile organic compounds.”
3. Metals – Studies reviewing the safety of the vapor produced by e-cigarettes have also found “potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel,” in the vapor. Exposure to these toxic metals can cause significant damage to a person’s health, such as brain damage. For a teen whose brain is still developing, this is a serious health risk.
While the majority of the public health concerns are centered around the ingredients within each JUULpod, there are also safety concerns with the design of the product. JUUL and the majority of e-cigarette products use a lithium-ion battery as its rechargeable power source, and in some cases, overheating of the device has triggered explosions. While the exact number of injuries or deaths as a result of these combusting devices is unknown, the U.S. Fire Administration released statistics documenting the number of reported fires and explosions caused by electronic cigarettes from 2009 to 2016. According to that document, 68% of the reported explosions caused injuries. Several consumer lawsuits have also been filed against the e-cigarette companies because of this built-in safety hazard.
How to Address The Problem
Addressing the problem of JUULing often means educating our children before they make the decision to purchase the product. But before you start educating your children, make sure you’re educated yourself, first. Do as much research as you can about JUULing, and provide both sides of the story to your child so that they can make an informed decision themselves without feeling judged.
Being a positive role model to your child is also important if you want them to follow in the footsteps of those who lead healthy lives. If you’re JUULing yourself, it will probably make your child feel envious and want to engage in the activity even more so.
Another thing you can do is provide support and techniques of handling situations where they may feel pressured to start JUULing because their friends started. According to clinical psychologist, Dr. Elaine Ducharme, PhD, coming up with specific things for them to say like, “I have asthma and my doctor says I could become very ill if I try this,” or, “I just don’t think it looks cool,” are good ways to circumnavigate the situation (4).
If your child is already addicted to JUULing and they quit cold turkey, they could experience major withdrawal symptoms from the nicotine. In this case, it’d be best to seek out the advice of a doctor or therapist to help make the transition go smoother.
The Bottom Line
While it is hard to determine the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, JUULs and other similar products, one thing is certain: these products contain harmful ingredients that are already known to trigger long-term health effects. While e-cigarettes may be marketed as a safe alternative to quitting smoking, the evidence says otherwise. One thing’s for certain, though, and that’s that we need to help prevent young individuals from even trying these products in the first place.
You can help me on this mission by sharing the infographic below on your social media accounts. The more this information gets out there, the more chance we have at improving the health of children and teens.
Disclaimer: This post is written in sponsored collaboration with ConsumerSafety.org.