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Parents Ask: What Is JUULing?

Teen addiction

(Image credit: Nikko/Flickr)

It is common for parents to overhear parts of conversations that their teenaged children are having with friends or on the phone. Lately, some parents have picked up a word that sounds like it starts with a “j” and rhymes with “pool.” Are their kids discussing gems or valuable stones? Is “Jule” an acquaintance whose given name is Julie or Julia? Or are the teens discussing scientific topics (a joule is a unit of energy or work)? Chances are, the answer is not any of the above; it is actually “JUUL.”

JUUL Explained

JUUL is the brand name of a relatively new type of electronic cigarette. Introduced in 2015, JUUL is the next iteration of vaping products that are designed to act as a nicotine delivery system which is safer than tobacco cigarettes. Like nicotine gums and prescription smoking cessation drugs, e-cigarettes are marketed to smokers who are either trying to quit or are cognizant of the health problems that tobacco and cigarettes can cause. Like all of these products, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 (or 19 or 21 in some states) to purchase them. The reason for JUUL’s popularity is that it is much sleeker and more compact than other vaping products. Unlike some e-cigs that are shaped like rectangular boxes, JUULs look a lot like computer flash drives (and can even be charged via a charger that is plugged into a device’s USB port). The company claims that the JUUL is always heated to the proper temperature to facilitate consistent delivery of the vapor.

Teens Think JUUL is Cool

Unsurprisingly, this new product for adults is attracting the attention of many teenagers. Much like traditional cigarettes have been stolen by adolescents for decades, JUULs are somehow winding up in the possession of teens who are curious and want to appear “grown up.” It does not help that the JUUL “e-liquid,” which is heated to produce the vapor, comes in appealing flavors like Fruit Medley, Cool Mint, and Crème Brulee. So, is vaping safe? Some physicians and media outlets are worried about the chemicals that make up some of the ingredients of the JUUL e-liquid. But substances like glycerol, propene glycol, and benzoic acid are not considered to be unsafe for people (and in fact are found in many foods and other consumer products). In short, there is no scientific evidence to indicate that JUULs cause cancer. However, the main concern surrounding JUULs is the nicotine they provide – and in relatively large quantities. One JUUL “pod” contains approximately the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes (and up to twice as much as other e-cigarettes). While “JUULing” will not get teens high like marijuana or other illicit drugs, it may very well make them dependent on nicotine. That is a problem for adolescents whose brains are still forming since nicotine has been linked to problems with neural development; plus, the nicotine can groom the brain to increase the euphoric rewards of harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.

How to Spot JUULing

In all fairness, the manufacturers of JUUL products are very vocal about how their e-cigarettes should never be used by anyone under the age of 21. (You can see this in an open letter from the CEO on their website.) In fact, JUUL admits that “no tobacco or e-liquid product should ever be considered ‘safe’” but rather viewed as a “harm reduction” approach for smokers and other nicotine addicts. Male teen blowing vapor out of his mouth. If you are concerned that your teenaged son or daughter is JUULing, here are some red flags to watch for:
  • Stray odors of unexplained flavors near your teen
  • Unexplained thirst increase
  • Persistent dry mouth
  • Sudden caffeine sensitivity
  • A recurring sore throat
  • Increased phlegm production
  • Respiratory issues
  • Nosebleeds
Lastly, it will not hurt to start a conversation with your teens about JUULing. It is possible that they may be unaware that these devices deliver nicotine and/or are ignorant about the risk of e-cigarettes. Of course, many teenagers feel like they are invincible and therefore underestimate the chances of becoming dependent on nicotine. So while JUULing is not a fad that will likely send your teen to the hospital (like swallowing Tide pods or scoops of cinnamon), it is far from a completely harmless trend. The best advice is for parents to treat adolescent JUULing like they would teen chain-smoking – and then take the necessary steps to discourage or prevent it. Contact us for more information about teen addiction.

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