JUUL Craze Reaches New Heights

JUUL Craze Reaches New Heights

Seth Plush, Editor

A Nationwide Issue

     When it comes to teen drug crazes, the question is never “if” but “when” and as it would seem the answer would be “now”. The subject of this generation’s fixation: nicotine vapor pens, and while there are many brands and variations, the king of them all is “Juice USB lighting”, or JUUL.

     Introduced by e-cigarette company PAX in 2015, JUUL was created as a means to quit cigarettes, similar to other vape products. It was met with almost immediate success, as consumers purchased it for its sleek, USB drive-like design, and relatively cheap price. Now an independent company, as of 2018, JUUL accounts for approximately half of the entire e-cigarette market, with sales skyrocketing nearly 700% in 2016 and 2017.

     Despite its success, concerns have been raised over both the marketing and intent behind the product. JUUL “pods,” the cartridges that contain the nicotine, have more than double the nicotine concentration that most vape products do and do not allow a user to raise or lower the nicotine content, causing critics to question the integrity of the “helps you quit” narrative.

     In 2015, when interviewed by The Verge, lead research and development engineer for JUUL, Ari Atkins said, “We don’t think a lot about addiction here because we’re not trying to design a cessation product at all. Anything about health is not on our mind.”

     Skeptics have also called into question JUUL’s marketing, with some claiming that it targets teens and young adults who have not yet picked up smoking. Promotions and advertisements often include young people, and highlights the small, concealable nature of the product’s design.

 

     Marketing aside, however, most studies conclude that JUUL’s largest legal consumer demographic is of the 18-25 year-old age group, and that underage usage accounts for almost a quarter of its use. Health officials cite the harmful effects to neurological development in teens stemming mostly from the high nicotine content and its ability to affect and influence the central nervous system.

     As cheap vape pens grow in popularity, so do the reports of new health risks. Some JUUL users have reported bleeding and slow-healing sores in the throat, tongue, and mouth. First-time tobacco inhalant users have reported developing persistent coughs, previously only thought to be inherent to traditional cigarettes.

     New studies have been published that point to the presence of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, both of which are linked to cancer when heated to the temperature of the JUUL’s vapor. They also find the gas that is inhaled when the pen heats the mixture in the pod leaves residue in the lungs, which collects and effectively “freezes” areola, the small lobes in lung which distribute blood.

     In response to growing pressure, JUUL has redesigned its marketing campaign to be more sensitive to youth consumption, and has implemented what its website calls “industry-leading ID match and age verification technology” that helps to filter out minors and adults under 21 from its online marketplace.

 

 

 

     However, the technology is reportedly easy to bypass provided a fabricated age and prepaid debit card. In addition, most states, including Colorado, set their minimum tobacco purchase age at 18, meaning young adults can still purchase JUUL products legally in stores.

 

A Local Issue

     As with most drug fads, almost every school in the nation is affected in one way or another, and Glenwood Springs High School (GSHS) is no exception.

     Student opinion points overwhelmingly to JUUL’s popularity within the school community.

     “I don’t own one, but my friends do, and their friends do, and so do their friends and so on,” said one anonymous student, “I think more kids have tried or use a JUUL regularly, myself included, than people think.”

     GSHS administration is not blind to the problem, however, reaching out via social media and newsletters to spread awareness to staff and students alike.

     When asked of the nature of the vape pen craze, principal Paul Freeman said, “I suspect this is something like what we saw in the 70’s, 80’s, and into the 90’s with cigarette smoking. In that period, we found that most students would try cigarettes and some would try for an extended period, but most would cease to smoke, and one of the differences between those who continued to smoke and those who ceased to smoke was their level of depression.”

     The link between depression and drug use in teens has been well documented in the medical community. Most agree that students who are under increased levels of stress or anxiety are more likely to try and/or get hooked on nicotine during their teenage years.

     “I definitely feel less stressed when I get a decent buzz,” said an anonymous student, “it helps to keep everything relaxed during a crazy school and work schedule.”

     Because of this link, there is much debate over how much mental health education or support from school or home can help students stay off nicotine, however, schools face the issue of taking on a task of that magnitude and still focusing on education.

     According to Freeman, “We are always willing to take on extra work to support that educational or supportive role, but we’ve got to be appropriately modest in our capacity to handle those situations. We have a full-time mental health counselor, but just in the same way we would have someone to immediately respond to a student with a broken leg, the issue of solving the problem of the broken leg falls out of our reach.”

     And with the concealed and diminutive nature of JUUL or a vape pen, efforts to prevent their use in school can be difficult.

     “If someone starts blowing smoke literally up their sleeve, that isn’t exactly normal behavior, but in a classroom of 25 students it could be easy to miss, so we try to raise awareness that is an issue, such as through the article we shared on Facebook,” said Freeman.

     Due to this, as the issue progresses, GSHS, as well as schools nationwide, seem to be taking a mostly educational path to a solution, even though it may be slow going. For the meantime, it seems that JUUL isn’t going anywhere.

     “[The solution] is always education, but you can’t always make education stick,” Freeman said.