By Braden Ravenscraft
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, were first introduced as a way to help smokers feed their nicotine addiction in a less harmful way than smoking traditional tobacco-filled cigarettes. While the jury is still out on whether or not ‘vaping’ is a good strategy to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are consistently marketed to seem like they are a proven, safe strategy to quit smoking. All the while, teenagers have discovered vaping and have picked up the habit in large numbers. According to the FDA, 4.9% of middle school students and 20.8% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018.
Juul is the most popular e-cigarette product by a landslide - it currently has a 76% market share, as per Nielsen. Among teenagers, it is essentially the only e-cigarette used. It is popular thanks to its sleek design that resembles a flash drive and is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. The discreet product allows for undetected use in school and other public places. It is common for adults to mistake them for USBs if they are discovered. A Wickenburg High School student recalls a time when he and his class were asked if a Juul was indeed a USB. The class nodded in agreement, leaving the adult clueless to what it actually was. The student also added that “teachers don’t realize how often students Juul in the bathrooms”.
A Juul consists of the rectangular body and the tiny replaceable pod that attaches to the top. The pod contains the e-liquid, which comes in a variety of flavors such as mint, mango, and creme. Each pod contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Pod usage rates vary by individual, but some avid users go through more than one pod per week.
Wickenburg High School principal Derek Streeter says the massive increase in Juuls on campus started three years ago. Ever since, they have been rapidly increasing in popularity. On the bright side, cigarette usage is decreasing, as in those three years he has only caught one student with cigarettes. Based off of student surveys, he estimates that the number of teenagers who use Juuls at WHS “could be over half (of the student population)”. Those same surveys reported that Juuls were being used in bathrooms, hallways, and many more places. In Streeter`s own words, “anywhere that teachers aren’t”. Many people know it is happening, but it is nearly impossible to stop.
Streeter’s largest concern with Juuls is the lack of a stigma tied to them. He compares them to cigarettes in his high school days, saying the difference lies in the label (or lack thereof). Smokers in the 1980’s were known as smokers - it was a part of who they were. Today, there are students who Juul and students who do not. In no way does it make up any of their identity.
The average student seems to have a laid-back stance on Juuls. Heavy users rarely admit they are addicted, while casual users do not see any problem with their use. “It’s really easy to quit. . . . I could quit at any time” a female student said, later adding that she times her use around her athletic seasons. She is not alone in her thinking. Many students know that it has a detrimental effect on them, yet they continue to use it.
Peer pressure works both ways when it comes to Juuls. A female student began partially out of curiosity, but also because “people (were) telling me to try it”. Another student began because he wanted to “fit in and feel cool”. However, just weeks later, that same student quit because of constant reminders from his friends that the risks were just too high.
A few students, much like the ones who convinced their friend to quit, are against Juuls. They know that it is unhealthy and highly addicting. One such student mentioned that “They (teenagers who Juul) don’t think about the action on Juuling. It’s gotten to the point to where for some it’s subconscious for them to take a hit.” It is a step in the right direction, and it leads one to believe that a stigma may soon develop.
Streeter also expressed his concern that Juuls “break down some of students reluctance to other drugs”. Since Juuls are currently not seen as a big deal, a step up in the drug world may in turn not be seen as a big deal. It is the age-old gateway drug theory that may hold true. In addition, the technology does exist to manufacture Juul pods that are filled with other drugs. As of now, however, only extreme drug users are taking advantage of that technology.
There are still a lot of unknowns surrounding Juuls and other e-cigarettes. Are carcinogens and toxic chemicals present in all e-cigarettes, if any? Do the benefits to traditional smokers outweigh the risks to teenagers and new tobacco users? The debate rages on. Regardless, there is no way around it; another generation has become addicted to nicotine.