Thinking About Health: New form of e-cigarettes lures teens despite no proof it’s safe

The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, has been touted — without proof — as a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products and perhaps even a method of breaking the tobacco habit altogether. Now a new, related product with the brand name JUUL has entered the market and is especially appealing to teens.

An e-cigarette, which looks much like a traditional cigarette, heats a liquid to create an aerosol, called “vapor,” that can be inhaled.

It is true that many of the toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke are not present in the “vapor.” However, most e-cigarettes still contain nicotine in addition to some chemicals not necessarily found in tobacco.

A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study published in Environmental Health Perspectives says some chemicals in e-cigarettes are linked to a severe respiratory disorder and that nicotine is still addictive even if it’s delivered in a vapor.

Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved electronic cigarettes as a safe or effective method to quit smoking.

The bottom line is, no study has yet identified the long-term effects of “vaping,” and the belief that it is somehow safer than regular cigarettes may lead users to indulge more than they might otherwise.

That includes young people. Keeping cigarettes out of the hands of those below the legal age has always been a problem, and e-cigarettes are no different. However, with the introduction of JUUL, the problem has become significantly more difficult.

Most e-cigarettes don’t look like anything but an e-cigarette. A JUUL device, on the other hand, looks like an ordinary flash drive, or USB drive, the exact sort of devices students now carry around with schoolwork stored on them. In fact, a JUUL is rechargeable and comes with a USB charger that you can plug into your laptop or charging station.

A single JUUL cartridge or pod — the part of the JUUL that contains the nicotine liquid — has about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes: roughly about 200 puffs.

JUUL is actually a brand name, but “JUULing” quickly entered the teen lexicon. Teens like JUUL because is easier to hide than a pack of cigarettes and produces considerably less telltale smell than tobacco smoke. Additionally, JUUL comes in various non-tobacco flavors such as cool mint, cherry, mango and crème brule. All this, plus the widespread belief that e-cigarettes are “safe,” makes JUUL extremely appealing to teens.

JUUL, the company, insists that its product is not marketed to teens, responding to one Tweet from a concerned user on March 28: “We don’t want minors using our product, either. Our mission is eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers a true alternative.”

To date, the government regulates all forms of e-cigarettes far less than it does traditional tobacco products. The best thing parents and school administrators can do to protect young people is to educate them and keep an eye on their habits and behavior.

Gordon Hopkins is an award-winning columnist and feature writer for The Fairbury Journal-News. Prior to that, he worked for several years in the health insurance industry. His latest book is “Nebraska at War: Dispatches from the Home Front and the Front Lines.” You can contact him at


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