I’ve gotten used to smelling Juul smoke in my 9 a.m. lecture. It’s rare if I don’t see puffs of smoke periodically floating overhead in class. This is a clear sign that the Juul has become ubiquitous among students.
Some kids begin Juuling as early as middle school, and last month, the FDA said that among teens, vaping has reached “an epidemic proportion.” The CDC reported that over two million middle and high schoolers use e-cigarettes every day.
This rise in underage vaping can be blamed almost solely on the Juul. The FDA and parents alike have voiced their concern, but the issue goes deeper than the dangers of underage vaping. The Juul has become part of my generation’s identity, and if things don’t change soon, it may never leave.
A Juul may be a vaping device, but its widespread use has evolved into a staple of youth culture in America. Kids who would never have smoked cigarettes are starting to Juul because of the relative absence of a social taboo compared to tobacco.
Until the Juul is treated as something more than just a vape or e-cigarette, attempts to reduce its use will fail. The Juul has penetrated every corner of social media, from Instagram and Twitter to Soundcloud and Spotify. Celebrities and social media influencers can be seen with the Juul nonchalantly in hand all the time.
Kids who have access to technology are getting exposed to the Juul especially early. There’s not a stigma around Juuling like there is around smoking, and many parents aren’t clued into the Juul’s existence, so it’s easy for kids to get hooked early.
The explosion of Juul use and its prolific social media presence are evidence that it’s not just the addictive properties of nicotine that make the Juul so successful. There are many other e-cigarettes and vaping devices on the market, but somehow the Juul rose above them all. By looking like a thumb drive and being chargeable on the computer, the Juul fits well into the average student’s backpack.
Of course, the nicotine is a major factor as well. Each Juul pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes. Being exposed to such high levels of nicotine at a young age can lead to long-term addiction, as well as other health problems including stunted growth. But these risks are easily glossed over by people touting that the Juul is healthier than cigarettes.
It’s easy for teens to rationalize vaping over smoking because of the lack of information about it. No long-term studies have been done on the health effects of vaping, so it’s presented as a risk-free alternative. The bottom line is that inhaling any kind of chemical isn’t good for you, even if the consequences aren’t defined yet.
Youth will always find ways to rebel, but the problem is that now we are constantly connected to social media and technology — two things that coexist perfectly in the Juul. The combination of sleek futuristic design and social media presence make it a perfect badge of hip rebellion.
Cigarettes used to be the go-to for rebellious teenagers, but according to the CDC, teenage smoking is at an all-time low at just below 16 percent. Kids may not be smoking cigarettes, but they're vaping.
Vaping is a little too broad though, as Juul makes up 72 percent of the e-cigarette market. It would be more accurate to say kids are Juuling. No other nicotine product in recent memory has had the impact Juul has.
Anti-smoking ads targeted directly at the Juul have already started popping up, but that won’t be enough. The Juul is so integrated in our culture that change must come from the inside. Social media influencers and the role models of our youth need to be more cognizant of their platform and take the opportunity to fight underage nicotine use.
Getting teenagers unaddicted to nicotine is a lofty goal, but it’s one worth working toward. There is no one-step solution, and underage nicotine use will likely never completely disappear, but those aren’t reasons not to try.
A correction was made on 10/30/2018 to remove the assertion that the Juul is made by the company PAX.