4,505 ViewsAug 10, 2018, 03:01pm E-Cigs Addicting The Masses: 'We Are Experimenting On Teenagers' Lungs,' Warns Stanford Professor
Just when cigarette smoking among adolescents is at its lowest, vaping has taken over as an alternate stealth delivery mechanism for the addictive drug nicotine.
Vaping is perceived as the cool in-thing, socially appealing, glamorous, flavorful, and healthy. Smoking, on the other hand, is bitter, smelly, harmful, uncool, passé and a taboo.
Over the past 50 years, tobacco control policies and programs have helped the fight towards reducing smoking rates by more than 60% (from 42.4 % in 1965 to 15.1% in 2015). However, this hard-earned trend may be losing the battle to vaping. The immense popularity of JUUL, a highly potent e-cigarette among teens may be creating nicotine addicts en masse. Healthcare professionals are concerned about an ensuing public health disaster.
In the U.S., cigarette companies are prohibited from glamorizing cigarette smoking in the media or using youth-appealing targeted marketing campaigns. Ironically, e-cigarettes manufacturers are using these same tactics on steroids. As a result, teens are increasingly giving e-cigarettes and cigarettes a try.
Adoption of e-cigarettes, and JUUL in particular, has been more rapid than for any consumer product in the recent history. Since its 2015 launch, JUUL sales are up almost 900%, with 70% ownership of the US e-cigarette market. In the U.S., JUUL has become ubiquitous at demographically affluent high schools - precisely at locations where smoking has declined the most in recent decades.
E-cigarette technology was purported to help grown-ups quit smoking; instead, it is now feeding the nicotine addiction frenzy among youth.
The success of JUUL among youth can be attributed to multiple factors. Its stealth appearance as a USB flash drive makes it nondescript, portable and a trendy piece of technology to carry. And it's easy to use: Just snap the pod filled with nicotine and inhale. It's available in wide assortment of fruity flavors such as mango, cool cucumber, etc.. The flavorful low-vapor nicotine puffs are hard to detect. JUUL pods with exceptionally high nicotine content (5%, 59 mg) carry the punch of a full pack of cigarettes, giving the kick or the “head rush.”
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Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg
JUUL’s stealthy and sleek industrial design with pods capable of delivering flavorful, high nicotine puffs has created a deadly nicotine drug-delivery device. This lethal device continues to attract and addict large numbers of adolescents and adults.
“JUULING” has become a powerful meme. Even the movie Jumanji 2 draws attention to the intense need for the JUUL – watch it!
JUUL e-cigarettes cannot be marketed in Europe or the United Kingdom due to the high nicotine content (2% allowed vs. 5% in JUUL pods). Presently, JUUL does not offer lower or non-nicotine varieties.
Professor Robert K. Jackler of Stanford University School of Medicine is very concerned about the risks posed by e-cigarettes to young adolescents. He questions the JUUL management’s disingenuous goals to rescue millions of adult smokers. Professor Jackler states that, “the management has not acted congruent with the company mission statement. On the contrary, JUUL’s initial marketing campaigns were heavily youth-focused in their advertising themes and the promotional channels, i.e., Instagram and Snapchat. JUUL chose to launch their print advertising campaign only in VICE magazine, a glossy pop culture focused publication which markets itself to advertisers as '#1 youth media company.' Study of JUUL social media is limited by the fact that JUUL has made a concerted effort to delete many of its early postings.” As of this publishing, JUUL's company mission statement on its website states: - Improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers.
Professor Jackler further states that, “the company has behaved according to the traditional strategies of the tobacco industry in targeting youth while claiming that their product was meant only for adult smokers. The liquid solution in the pods typically contains a mixture of nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin and other additives. Long-term effects of inhaling vapors of these chemicals are unknown. Essentially, we are experimenting on teenagers’ lungs.”
Bottles of flavored vape juice for electronic cigarettes are displayed for sale at the NXNW Vapor store in Sacramento, California, on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Voters in San Francisco recently approved a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including vape liquids, that are used to make tobacco more enticing. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
One needs to be age 21 to shop at a JUUL’s online store. The company does exhaustive age vetting and is known to turn away a quarter of aspiring JUUL purchasers. Almost 90% of JUUL’s products are purchased at retail stores without much ID checking. Using prepaid credit cards, kids can also buy JUULs through online sites such as E-bay and Alibaba, etc.. It is suspected that JUUL dealers offer to sell e-cigarette devices, pods, and bootleg refills at brick-and-mortar schools and online platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.
Teens are posting pictures of JUULING, JUUL parties, etc., on social media, feeding this frenzy and craze. Viral presence of JUULING on social media creates a strong herding participatory pull for the vulnerable and impressionable kids. Teens are advertising nicotine and JUUL to one another for free. JUUL fan accounts like @doit4juul and YouTube videos add to the fervor and draw more youths to experimentation. Compared to traditional cigarettes the high nicotine content in JUUL can potentially hasten the dependency.
Professor Richard Miech from the University of Michigan states that," vaping can provide a physical pathway to smoking by creating an addiction to nicotine. Among adolescents, vaping strongly predicts future cigarette experimentation. As of January 2018, there were seven separate studies that looked at this issue, and they all found that among adolescents who had never smoked at baseline, those who vaped were on average about 3.5 times more likely to have experimented with cigarettes at follow-up, around a year later.” This information is reported in a 2018 National Academy of Sciences report.
Research also shows that exposure to nicotine in adolescents can prime them towards various harmful addiction habits such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs. Columbia University Professor Denise Kandel’s research shows that nicotine is the most effective gateway drug - a stepping stone to other drug usages. Her work using animal models suggests that nicotine physically affects the brain and makes cocaine much more pleasurable and more receptive to further substance use.
To counter the teenage adoption of vaping, in June 2018 San Francisco passed a proposition to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping liquids. Schools are becoming vigilant, monitoring bathrooms and quads, and are starting to install specialized sensors to detect vaping.
Ongoing research shows that young people tend to believe that flavored e-cigarettes are less harmful than e-cigarettes that taste like tobacco and hence are more likely to try the flavorful varieties. The high-dose nicotine vapor products should not be camouflaged in flavors; instead, tobacco and nicotine should taste like tobacco. Professor Robert Jackler suggests that JUUL ought to offer sweet and fruity JUUL pods only as nicotine-free.
Many social media platforms do age-gating (blocking underage kids) for e-cigarettes. However, these age-gating mechanisms need to be strengthened by eliminating various promotional and glamorous #hashtag accounts online. More than two-thirds of the teens do not know these vapor liquids have nicotine, let alone high amounts of nicotine. Celebrity campaigns admonishing against the addictive nature of ingesting excessive amounts of nicotine via vaping should be proliferating on the most popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. Presently retail stores selling cigarettes to minors can lose their tobacco license; the same should apply and be enforced for selling e-cigarettes.
Be aware. Vaping is a powerful stealth mechanism to get a whole new generation addicted to nicotine again.