The vaping, or e-cigarette, trends has grown at a rapid pace over the last several years. This was mainly brought on by the brand Juul, which looks like a small USB stick and dominates a whopping 75% of vaping’s market share. And how could it have not? Toted as the healthier alternative to traditional smoking, Juul offers many customizable options that allow one to make their experience more enjoyable. The fact that there is no physical smoke or overwhelming stench means that the pod can be smoked easily in public. Until recently, vaping devices were thought to help people wean off of cigarettes and nicotine products altogether. (If you are not familiar with the product, read more about it [HERE].)
These thoughts could not be more misguided. Many governmental investigations have found that Juul and its former parent company, PAX Laboratories, have targeted teens to get them addicted to nicotine – not wean those already addicted to cigarettes off. Their methods are both overt and inconspicuous.
Juul uses dispensable pods filled with nicotine salts in order to give their smoker a high, and these are inserted into the stick, which is the physical Juul product. The salts allow for the nicotine to be more highly-concentrated. Normal tobacco cigarettes contain roughly 1.7% nicotine; Juul’s contain anywhere from 2-5%. Juul e-cigarettes also come in many different flavors.
Positively, this does reduce the smell that comes from regular cigarettes, but many of these flavors are more palatable to children and teens with a sweet tooth. Flavors include mango, crème brulee, and piña colada, among others. These aforementioned flavors all contain 5% nicotine salts, the highest concentration available. Other, milder flavors, such as mint and tobacco, are sold at 3% concentration. These sweeter, varied flavors are also the most heavily advertised, and many of the advertisements feature young people.
Juuls differ from other vaping products because of their convenient use. Prior to 2015 when the Juul was released to the market, it was able to mimic tobacco cigarettes better than the competition without the drawbacks. CEO (now VP) James Monsees stated that a nicotine buzz roughly five minutes after taking a hit of the cigarette was what would provide the most analogous experience to regular smoking. The nicotine salts, in part, allow for this to happen. Additionally, because there is no debris or ash from the cigarette, each puff one takes is just as smooth as the one before. Unlike other similar products on the market,
Juuls are temperature controlled, which allows the flavor to stay consistent, and the salts will not degrade. It, essentially, allows an average person to vape, rather than just those who understand the nuances of the skill set. These supposed benefits can be taken as a negative when put in the context of teen smokers.
They can be seen as allowing one who would not smoke, try it. The lung damage, while still severe, is not as obviously apparent after inhaling for the first time, and of course, the sweet flavors are appealing to those who would not like the taste of a tobacco cigarette. Finally, Juuls are discrete, so much so that they can be smoked anywhere. It would be impossible for a teen to smoke a cigarette in class because it offends the senses and they would be easily caught, but it would be easy for a high schooler to take a hit outside a school, or even in the bathroom – hiding the discreet device in their pocket or book bag.
So long as the battery is charged, one does not need to carry a lighter with them, and the smoker can remain incognito relatively easily. All of these factors combine to truly have the youth craze make sense; youth vaping has gone up 15-fold between 2011 and 2015.
Defenders of the craze would state that despite the negatives, vaping can help wean those off of cigarettes to an (arguably) healthier alternative. However, the raw data on the phenomenon disputes this. In fact, vaping is causing far less people to wean off of smoking and causing an entirely different group of people to get addicted to nicotine products.
A 2015 study from the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine showed that roughly 2,100 people quit nicotine products altogether with the help of vapor products; 168,000 teens began using the products without prior tobacco usage, however. (Keep in mind that these statistics were released before the craze truly began. Juuls were not even on the market until that summer. The numbers are likely much higher now in 2018.)
Most damming, however, is Juul’s prominent social media and email campaigns. Young people, of course, spend much of their time on social media, where Juul targeted people under 18 heavily, according to a recent class-action lawsuit filed in New York Federal Court earlier this year. Additionally, Juul had a clever, albeit devious, way of adding young people to their emailing list. When one goes to the Juul website, they are prompted to enter their email, the last four digits of their social security number, and their birthday. If they are under the age of 18, then the website will deny them access to the online shop, but they will still add them to the emailing list, according to the New York lawsuit. Over this medium, it is alleged that they will receive promotions, including discounts on the Juul “starter kit” and pods.
Local governments and attorneys are starting to see the dangers of modern-day big tobacco. New York and California have made flavored Juul pods illegal to dissuade young people from buying the products, and several class-action lawsuits have been brought against Juul specifically. Due to several advertising and health violations, the company has sparred openly with the FDA. Nevertheless, the industry continues to grow at an astonishing rate. Juul was valued at $38 billion this November – great news for those investing in the company – and Altria Group, makers of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested $12 billion in the company. Unless legal action is taken in many cases, no doubt remains that the industry will continue to take advantage of teens around the country.