Vaping has been on the market for more than a decade. Since 2015, Juul has become the most popular e-cigarette in the US. Last December, the founders of Juul accepted a $12.8 billion cash investment from Altria, one of the nation’s largest cigarette makers, for a 35 percent stake in the company. Now, according to Forbes, the company is valued at $38 billion. Because of its sleek, high-tech design and sweet pod flavors, Juul has also skyrocketed in popularity among teenagers. With low vapor production and a more subtle scent than most e-cigarettes, it can be easily concealed, thereby making it harder to detect at home, school, or in public places.
Profiting from youth
It is not difficult to understand how kids would be attracted to vaping. We live in a highly addictive society where constant stimulation is the norm. Children seek instant gratification in the form of eating, gum chewing, talking, texting, online social media, and any number of other activities. Sucking on an e-cigarette is both stimulating (from the nicotine content) and soothing. A high school senior related it best: “To some people it’s like a baby pacifier and they freak out when it’s not near.”
Dr. Matthew Lark, DDS of Oak Openings Dental has seen an uptick in vaping for years, particularly among adolescents. “We are seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “Big tobacco is getting children hooked on nicotine, one of the most addictive substance known. This is a fast growing industry, leading to astronomical profits.”
Although vaping was initially marketed as a smoking cessation alternative, has quickly become another vehicle for nicotine addiction. In fact, Juul provides twice the nicotine content as other e-cigarettes. Each pod contains 59 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of liquid, three times the nicotine levels permitted in the European Union, so the devices cannot be marketed there.
Smoking traditional cigarettes can inevitably lead to coughing, but with vaping, users can get a rush of nicotine without irritation. “Vaping increases the nicotine addiction by offering a more efficient delivery vehicle for higher levels of nicotine in a less socially invasive form,” explains Dr. Lark. “The e-cigarette actually deepens the addiction rather than helping to kick it.”
Juul’s widespread use by youth has been the catalyst for multiple investigations by the Food and Drug Administration. While the long-term health impacts of vaping are still unknown, a recent case study published in Pediatrics suggests that there are significant risks to teens. Chemicals in e-cigarrettes can cause “wet lung”, or hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which may lead to respiratory failure and the need to use a breathing machine until the lungs can recover.
Doctors and health officials are also worried about the affects of nicotine addiction on the development of brain and body function. Scott Gottlieb, the head of the FDA, reiterates that “the nicotine in these products can rewire an adolescent’s brain, leading to years of addiction.” Last April, Gottlieb announced that the FDA is targeting retailers that illegally sell e-cigarette products to minors and they have asked e-cigarette companies to provide data about their marketing practices, particularly marketing toward youth.
Now admitting it was a mistake, Juul founders initially marketed to kids via Instagram and social media promotions. Yet the manufacturers have been persistent in profit seeking. While government agencies warned about an e-cigarette epidemic among teens, Juul continues to generate its popular fruit-flavored e-liquid pods, which have a notoriously high concentration of nicotine.
Last summer, the FDA delayed a compliance deadline for e-cigarette products to 2022, which gives the industry more time to prove their products are safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes and that they were not significantly targeting minors. The FDA says it will continue to regulate Juul and other e-cigarette companies ahead of the deadline, but a lot of damage has already been done.
“This adolescent addiction has reached epidemic proportions,” says Dr. Lark.
Education is the key for both parents and educators. The Surgeon General reports that in the 44 years that substance abuse has been tracked, the largest one-year spike of any substance was from vaping. In fact, vaping and marijuana use are now the most common, with nearly one-third of 12th graders reporting the use of a vaping device in the past year. A survey of teens confirmed the use of alcohol, tobacco, prescription opioids, and other stimulants either dropped or remained the same while the use of vaping products continues to rise.
Even though kids are inventive when trying to hide their vaping habit, parents, teachers, and caregivers can recognize signs and symptoms. Increased thirst, a desire for flavor, and nosebleeds top the list as the vaping process is dehydrating. Parents may discover unfamiliar USB drives or charging ports as the batteries in most vaping devices typically last two hours, so they need to be charged regularly. Kids may inadvertently leave out, or throw away, organic cotton balls, metallic wires, atomizers, or empty Juul pods which are all signs of vaping use.
Advice of parents
Of course, the best thing parents can do to help their kids to remain nicotine-free is to set a positive example at home, but it is also important for parents to find the time to talk with their kids about vaping. Researching together online can be especially helpful when teaching kids about the monetary and health-related costs associated with nicotine addiction.
The one thing most teens crave is independence. When they become addicted to a substance or behavior, they may not realize they lose their freedom of choice. Perhaps explaining that risk might be the most persuasive way parents can encourage their kids to make wiser, healthier decisions.
Nicotine Addiction and Youth
- Juul vaping devices look like a USB drive, so it’s easy to hide, allowing increase use in a variety of places.
- The liquid contains nicotine salts derived from tobacco plants. Juul has more than twice the nicotine content of other e-cigarettes.
- Kids love the fruity flavors and believe vaping is less harmful than smoking, but studies show kids who vape are more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes later in life.
- Nicotine is highly addictive and can lead to other substance abuse.
For more information about vaping, please contact Dr. Matthew Lark at 419-824-7900 or via his website: oakopeningsdental.com.