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What Is Juuling? – The Health Dangers of Juuling and Vaping

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What Is Juuling? – The Health Dangers of Juuling and Vaping

If you read a lot of Facebook posts by parents of teens (and sometimes even younger kids), you’re bound to run across some version of this query: “I found this in my child’s backpack/car/pocket — he says it’s a flash drive. Should I believe him?”

For parents of the 3.6 million American teens who vape, that innocent-looking little doohickey masquerading as a memory stick may very well turn out to be a Juul. Introduced just four years ago, Juuls have become by far the most popular brand of e-cigarettes, so much so that teens have now turned “Juuling” into a verb. There are other types of e-cigarettes, but Juul hits the teenage sweet spot with its sleek, high-tech look (it can be recharged in a USB port), its fruity flavors, and the fact that much of its early marketing was through social media. And most importantly, because they’re small and can easily be mistaken for a gadget holding your AP Lit essays, Juuls can be hidden much more easily from parents and teachers than traditional cigarettes or other types of vape pens.

Juul claims their products are meant as an “alternative to combustible cigarettes” for the world’s “1 billion adult smokers.” But despite their efforts (including ads in major newspapers encouraging states to pass laws restricting the sale of all tobacco products, including vapes, to people over 21), age verification on the website, and more recent plans to track confiscated Juul devices that were sold to minors, Juuls are hugely popular with adolescents. In fact, the number of high school kids who vape almost doubled in one year, from 11.7% in 2017 to 20.8 % in 2018, which is concurrent with the rise in popularity of the Juul brand, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Nearly 5% of middle school students have also tried vaping.

After years of declining rates of smoking, this teen craze may be creating a whole new generation of avid smokers, experts say.

Here’s everything you need to know before talking to your children:

What is Juuling?

Juuling is a form of vaping — using an electronic device to create an aerosol that is then inhaled. But though vape products come in many forms, including pipes, tanks, and cigarettes, Juuling refers specifically to using Juul-brand products or their inevitable copycats.

Juuls, which were originally created as an alternative to combustible cigarettes, are used with liquid-containing pods; when heated up in the Juul, the liquid is converted into an aerosol, which is then inhaled into the lungs. The pods sold by Juul are available in 3% or 5% nicotine strength, in plain tobacco or with additional flavorings including mint, mango, cucumber, and creme. In November, 2018, Juul agreed to stop selling its flavored pods in retail stores (they can still be ordered online) — but that hasn’t stopped several other companies from stepping into the void, selling kid-friendly flavors like pineapple, watermelon, and cinnamon roll, which also contain highly addictive nicotine.

There are some Juul-compatible pods that claim to be nicotine-free, and many kids mistakenly believe these blueberry- or lemonade-flavored aerosols are completely harmless, says Christy Sadreameli, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “It’s not just the nicotine that’s harmful — it’s everything that’s in there,” she explains, listing not only the flavorings, but ultrafine particles and heavy metals that are inhaled deeply into the lungs, potentially causing damage. In fact, one recent study found that diacetyl, a chemical associated with a serious lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans (or “popcorn lung,” because of its outbreak among workers in a microwave-popcorn factory), was found in 39 of 51 flavor pods tested from various companies.

Can you also smoke pot in a Juul?

Yep. Though Juul does not sell any pods that contain cannabis, there are a slew of YouTube videos that give instructions on how to hack your Juul to vape pot, and kids who know how to use Google and lie about their age can find cannabis-oil-filled “Juul-compatible” pods for sale online. According to a 2017 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 5% of 12th graders, 4% of 10th graders, and 1.6% of 8th graders admitted they had vaped marijuana in some sort of e-cigarette device, though not necessarily in a Juul.

What are the dangers of Juuling and vaping?

E-cigarettes pose some very specific health risks to teens and young adults. “The brain is still developing, not just in adolescents but also through early young adulthood,” says Dr. Sadreameli. “This is a time when the brain is very vulnerable to addiction. We know that most lifelong addiction to nicotine begins in adolescence or early young adulthood, and if people can get through that period without smoking, it’s much less likely that they will become smokers in the future.” She adds that during adolescence, nicotine can cause ADHD-like symptoms in the developing brain, and that the lungs are still developing until at least mid-adolescence.

A report last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that e-cigarettes pose a lower health risk that traditional cigarettes (and are therefore a better option for adults who are already smokers), but it also cautioned that young people who begin with e-cigs are more likely to transition to combustible cigarettes, and then suffer from all the well-known health effects of smoking, such as increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and early death. And research has confirmed that kids who vape are more than twice as likely to move on to smoking cigarettes.

But even though they are the lesser evil when compared with traditional cigarettes, vapes and Juuls still cause a slew of ill effects: Studies looking at the short-term health risks of e-cigarettes have found that they impair the ability of the lungs to clear mucus, making it more difficult to stave off infection and injury. They also increase the risk of heart attack, and the CDC just announced it is investigating nearly 200 cases or severe lung disease related to vaping. And your child may feel the effects even if he doesn’t Juul himself but he hangs out with friends who do. One recent study showed that breathing secondhand smoke from a vape may make asthma symptoms worse.

The truth is, there’s still a lot we don’t know about exactly what type of damage Juuling may cause over the long run. “Juuls have only been on the market for less than 10 years in the U.S., and they’ve been popular with teens for shorter than that, so it’s going to take a long time before we know what the long-term health effects are,” says Dr. Sadreameli.

How to talk to your kids about vaping:

Dr. Sadreameli recommends talking to your kids before this is even an issue, which can mean as young as fifth or sixth grade. “You should talk not just about the long-term consequences, like nicotine addiction, but also about the short-term consequences, like being more likely to have a cough, or being short of breath and not able to play sports as well,” she says. If you need talking points, the FDA and Scholastic have put together some very helpful info you can download here.

You can also lobby your congressperson to take stricter steps in limiting the availability and appeal of vaping products. “The number one thing is to restrict their advertising and marketing,” says Vaughan W. Rees, PhD, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who believes there must be a balance between making e-cigarettes available as a healthier alternative for adult smokers while keeping them out of the hands of children. “Right now there are some legal loopholes, so they don’t have the same standards that are applied to cigarette advertising,” Dr. Rees points out. “Tobacco companies haven’t been able to use TV and radio since the 1970s, and billboard were phased out in the 1990s, but those channels are still open to vaping.”

It may also help to remind your child that since they are the first generation of kids to be exposed to Juuls, we still don’t know what we will find out about them years from now. As Dr. Sadreameli says, “I don’t want our teens to be guinea pigs! I want them to stop vaping.”

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