Return to Headlines

This craze should get parents' attention

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board 

IF you're the parent of a child in high school or junior high and haven't heard about or seen a Juul, be advised: It's something to pay attention to.

A Juul is an electronic cigarette that delivers a potent dose of nicotine and, as The Wall Street Journal reported recently, the device “has become a coveted teen status symbol” and a fast-spreading problem for school administrators.

The devices look like flash drives — and indeed, can be plugged into laptop USB drives to recharge. An executive with Juul Labs Inc., which makes the Juul, told the Journal that criticism the device was designed to appeal to minors is “absolutely false.” Instead, the ability to plug into a USB port was convenient, she said, and the device's non-cylindrical shape is meant to keep those trying to quit smoking from being reminded of cigarettes.

Yet Juul flavors include “Fruit Medley” and “Creme Brulee” and lack a harsh smell or other characteristics that experts say can deter people from smoking. An Oberlin College researcher interviewed by the Journal noted that studies show sweet flavors in e-cigarettes are particularly attractive to young people — many brands of e-cig liquids come in fruity flavors, although Juul is more popular than all the e-cigarette brands made by the major tobacco companies.

Federal regulations prohibit anyone younger than 18 from buying e-cigarettes. And last year, Juul raised to 21 the minimum age requirement for buying products on its website. It also is exploring technologies to disable the device on school grounds, and working with local law enforcement to curb sales to minors.

Yet the product's use is growing quickly, as is the overall use of e-cigarettes by minors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says more than 2 million high school and middle school students used e-cigarettes in 2016. According to a 2017 University of Michigan study, 18 percent of U.S. eighth-graders and 35.8 percent of 12th-graders said they had ever vaped. That compares with 9.4 percent of eighth-graders and 26.6 percent of 12th-graders who said they had tried cigarettes.

The same trend is seen in Oklahoma. The state Health Department says that in 2015, 19 percent of high schoolers and 6.7 percent of middle schoolers said they had vaped. At that time, 14.6 percent of high schoolers and 4.1 percent of middle schoolers smoked.

The decline in youth smoking rates in Oklahoma is encouraging, of course. But the surge in e-cigarette use by young Oklahomans — the rate among high schoolers was 6.3 percent in 2013 — is concerning because nicotine is highly addictive and, health officials warn, it can impact the developing brain.

The 5 percent nicotine concentration in the Juul liquid is far greater than most commercially available e-cigarettes. Juul Labs says the nicotine in one liquid pod is comparable to that found in a pack of cigarettes. That potency is important to adults trying to switch from tobacco, the Journal noted.

But for kids? Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, immunologist with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said recently in The Oklahoman that, “Teens feel invincible. But with all the chemicals being inhaled (via e-cigarettes), we just don't know what the long-term health effects will be.”

Parents, take note.