Opinion: The JUUL Epidemic

Anna Huber, Reporter

In 2015 alone, about 2.39 million high schoolers were inhaling vaping products, roughly 16 percent of all US high school students. However, after startup vaporization company Pax Labs put their new product, the JUUL, on the market on June 1, 2015, it is safe to say those numbers have risen. In 2017, the company saw $224 million in sales and constantly struggled throughout the year to keep up with demands. Roughly the size of a large flash drive, finished with a metallic coat, and containing about 10 times the amount of nicotine than any other e-cigarette on the market, the JUUL has become “the thing” for this generation of teens.

What most people don’t know or understand about these new e-cigarettes are the potential future consequences. Due to their recent creation, long term effects of the JUUL and other vaping products are simply a mystery. However we do know about some of the short term effects, the nicotine content, and the addiction risks of these products.

Of the few things that is known about the effects of e-cigarettes is the short-term effect it can have on the lungs. In a study done at the University of Rochester Medical Center, a group of scientists observed the effects “e-liquid” has on normal human lung fibroblasts. The results concluded that fibroblasts that were exposed to e-liquid with nicotine went through “profound morphological changes.” These include: cell overlap, mixed directional orientation, vacuolization (fluid buildup) and cell enlargement. All symptoms that can make it hard to breathe and decrease endurance. Additionally, Dr. Robert E. Sallis of the Sports Medicine Fellowship at Kaiser Permanente tells us that, “For people who exercise to the [full] capacity of their lungs…, any decrease in lung function will impair your ability to exercise.” So for teens who are heavily active, using these devices can unknowingly harm their athletic talent and ability.

Another fact about the JUUL is its nicotine content. A single JUUL pod (“e-liquid”, “juice”) contains fifty milligrams. That’s over double the amount in an average cigarette which ranges from about eight milligrams to twenty. Nicotine itself in small portions can be considered a stimulant drug but when abused at higher doses can be harmful. When nicotine enters the body it takes roughly ten seconds for it to enter the brain, thus causing the brain to release adrenaline that is typically described as the “head high”. This adrenaline rush comes and goes very quickly, and when the brain calms down it leaves the user feeling tired, rundown, and thinking about the next time they can get a high. Not only that, the Journal of Physiology reports that “adolescence encompasses a sensitive developmental period of enhanced clinical vulnerability to nicotine…” meaning teens are much more susceptible to becoming addicted. So when a product like the JUUL contains extremely high levels of nicotine in them, the odds of becoming addicted are much higher.

The final, but probably scariest fact about e-cigarettes is the unknown. Before the late 19th century when cigarettes became popular, lung cancer had been an extremely rare disease that was “a once-in-a-lifetime oddity,” says Robert N. Proctor, historian at Stanford University. And in the 1960s still only about a third of US doctors believed that cigarettes were truly harmful. The effects were coincidentally “unknown” and just like vaping and “juuling” today, cigarettes popularized globally in the late 19th century . Today, lung cancer causes about 1.5 million deaths a year, primarily due to smoking. It would be wrong to say that e-cigarettes and vaping are going to cause lung cancer because it hasn’t been proven. However, that’s only because they haven’t been on the market for that long and only time can tell what life-threatening diseases these products may cause.

While the e-cigarette industry becomes more and more popular, especially in adolescents, it is imperative that parents and the teens that use them become aware of the possible risks. While vaping may seem cool and fun now, it could become the centerpiece of ads similar to those disturbing anti-smoking commercials twenty years from now. So stay informed, inform others, and don’t let yourself or a loved one become a victim of something that can be prevented now.