News & Politics

Alarming Number of Teens Smuggling Smaller-Sized E-Cigs into Class

When I was in high school, it was next to impossible to get away with smoking during class. Between the obvious smell and the smoke, there was really no way to sneak a drag, even if the teacher’s back was turned. However, today’s teens have been given an innovative way to get their nicotine fix during the middle of class if they want. Thanks to the new JUUL e-cigarette, more and more teens are vaping in class, according to a new report from NPR.

The irony is that e-cigarettes are intended to help adults stop smoking; they’re a way to wean them off slowly. This is why the FDA has been hesitant to ban flavored e-cigarettes, even though the agency has outlawed most flavored cigarettes and cigars. The thought behind the ban is that flavored tobacco products will appeal to teens. E-cigarettes offer a wide variety of flavors, and based on the rise in the number of teens vaping, the FDA’s fear appears to be correct.

In the article, NPR quotes a study looking at the rise of e-cigarettes among teens:

The Pediatrics study asked 808 students in three Connecticut high schools each year between 2013 and 2015 if they used e-cigarettes or tobacco cigarettes in the last month. The first year, 8.9 percent of students used a vape pen and 4.8 percent of students smoked cigarettes in the last month. ‘[People] who used e-cigarettes were 7 times more likely to smoke cigarettes by the second survey, and almost 4 times more likely by the third survey,’ says Krysten Boyd, a research scientist at Yale School of Medicine and lead author on the study. The third year of the study, 14.5 students had used a vape pen in the previous month, and 8.5 student smoked cigarettes. (JUUL didn’t enter the market until 2015.)

NPR’s anecdotal evidence seems to back the study up. The article opens with:

Mil Schooley, an 18-year-old student in Denver, Colo., says most of her friends have a JUUL — an e-cigarette that can vanish into a closed fist. When asked roughly how many, she stumbles a bit. “I wanna say like 50 or 60 percent? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the people I know. All my friends in college have one,” she says. “It just blew up over the summer.”

Schooley doesn’t have one herself — at least at the moment. Hers broke due to an unfortunate mishap involving her JUUL and soda water. But the trend to own a vape pen is real, with students bragging on Twitter about using them in class, and researchers saying they’re seeing a big spike in use among teens and young adults.

“We’re seeing it across college campuses and high schools. I have a friend who teaches high school, and they contacted me last week because they are having a major problem with e-cigs,” says Meghan Morean, a substance addiction researcher at Oberlin College.

As the next evolution of the e-cigarette, the JUUL is set to fuel a marked increase in teens vaping and, eventually, smoking cigarettes. Small enough to hide in the palm of your hand, the JUUL is almost perfect for teens who want to vape during class.

While many consider e-cigarettes harmless, the devices still contain nicotine. Ingesting nicotine during the teen years will stunt brain development as well as increase the risk that the addiction will lead to the smoking of actual cigarettes. NPR reveals that the pods for the JUUL contain “roughly the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes.”

Referencing the Pediatrics study, NPR quotes pediatrician Dr. Harold Farber, who warns, “This excellent and important work demonstrates that electronic cigarettes are a path of nicotine addiction for youth. It’s a short jump from there to combustible cigarettes [which] delivers a better hit.”

The ability to hide the JUUL should be a cause of concern for adults who want to protect teenagers from the scourge of cigarettes. After years of seeing a decline in teenagers engaging in risky behaviors, the introduction of the JUUL to the market seems to be altering the trend in a negative direction.