And poof! Just like that the hope that vaping was a safe alternative to cigarettes has gone up in smoke. But did we really believe it was safe? Finally, we are hearing about the dangers of vaping. Over 1,300 people have developed an acute lung injury and 30 have died in the past few months from vaping.
Vaping (or using e-cigarettes to inhale a vapor) began in the early 2000s and now JUUL, an e-cigarette company, has 75 percent of the U.S. market. JUUL is like the iPhone in the vaping market and is what all the kids are using.
Ironically, JUUL’s official position is to refrain from selling their products to teens. Ask any high schooler and they will tell you that there is a lot of JUULing going on. Even middle school kids will tell you that it is happening. Today’s middle and high school kids aren’t smoking cigarettes anymore. But ask if they know someone who JUULs or if someone has used a JUUL pod at their school and the answer will almost certainly be a “yes.”
JUUL has been very successful marketing to children through their social media outreach, particularly on Instagram. Their models are young and cool, perfect targets of the impressionable teens. This marketing campaign is as concerning as when the big tobacco companies would have cartoon characters as part of their logo; remember Joe Camel from Camel cigarettes? His brand recognition was as strong as Mickey Mouse for Disney World.
The JUUL device looks like a USB flash drive, so parents think it is an innocuous storage drive for school. You actually plug it into the USB port to charge it. Furthermore, the flavors of JUUL pods are appealing to kids, such as cotton candy, fruit and mango.
JUUL has recently agreed to FDA requests to stop producing some flavors to decrease the attraction for the younger kids, and furthermore, the CEO has recently stepped down so JUUL can focus its marketing on adults who already smoke.
But with all that as a background, what is the danger of vaping? Well, the obvious problem is addiction. These products contain nicotine; one JUUL pod is equivalent to 20 regular cigarettes. We know that 90 percent of smokers have tried and failed to quit smoking due to the addictive nature of nicotine. There are other cancer-causing chemicals in the vapor itself plus the vapors are causing burn injuries to the lungs. But perhaps most timely, we are seeing a rise in a number of patients with severe acute lung injury that seems to be associated with vaping. These previously healthy young patients are presenting with severe respiratory distress and requiring significant medical support. Although the mechanism behind the lung injury is not known, it is connected to vaping. There is an association with vaping devices bought off the street rather than at a retail location. Furthermore, it seems as if there may be more lung injury if the vapor contains marijuana. But I don’t want anyone to think that it is still OK to buy a vaping product from a retail location. It still isn’t good for you.
What should you do as a parent? First, educate yourself about vaping. Do your homework. Look up JUUL on the internet. Google search the JUUL Instagram posts. Go to drugfree.org. Then have an open conversation with your kids. Avoid conversation-ending statements like, “it is bad for you” or “just don’t do it.” You need to talk to your kids about these things because kids are talking about them, seeing them, and doing them. This is a fight that we are losing right now; vaping is a big part of the teen social scene. The anti-vape message needs to be clear, and unfortunately, the health aspect is not the answer. We want our kids to fight peer pressure, fight the system.
Dr. Spandorfer is a local pediatrician in practice for over 20 years and an active member of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta.