By Melissa Shaw, MS3, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
With Rebecca Unger, M.D.
“Vaping” is a relatively new term that actually describes several different types of inhaling nicotine that does NOT involve a cigarette. There are many different objects that teenagers use to vape, primarily “pod-mods” and e-cigarettes. The JUUL is the most popular and well-known “pod-mod” and delivers nicotine through air that is inhaled from the device1. When the term “vaping” is used it often refers to the use of a JUUL. E-cigarettes have fallen out of favor among teenagers since the nicotine delivery system is different and not as enjoyable as the JUUL. The JUUL is the size of a USB flash drive and does not produce smoke when used. Guess how the JUUL is charged? The charger plugs right into a cell phone charger. Pods that are inserted into the JUUL device contain the nicotine solution and flavoring. JUUL pods come in appealing flavors such as “Mango”, “Cool Mint”, “Crème brûlée”, and “Cucumber”. Research has shown that the sweet flavoring reinforces addiction to the JUUL2.
Yes! JUUL pods contain nicotine which is HIGHLY addictive and is an active ingredient in actual cigarettes. JUUL pods are so addictive that 80% of people aged 15-24 years old who tried the JUUL only ONE TIME continued to regularly use the JUUL. A recent study has shown that 63% of people ages 15-24 did NOT know that nicotine is present in JUUL pods. One JUUL pod contains the SAME amount of nicotine that is in 20 CIGARETTES. So 1 JUUL pod (4 pods are sold in one package) is the same as the amount of nicotine in 1 pack of cigarettes. So what makes nicotine so dangerous? Nicotine has negative effects on the developing brain, which is not fully developed until about 24 years of age! Nicotine has also been shown to contribute to mood and attention issues that affect school performance. Not only does nicotine have negative impacts on the brain, but it also leads to irritation of the lungs- another very important organ! Research has shown that vaporized nicotine delivered through the JUUL increases inflammation in lung tissue which is what leads to cough and respiratory infections3. Research has also proven that kids and adolescents who use the JUUL are much more likely to use actual cigarettes and become addicted than adolescents who do not use the JUUL.
Signs of addiction are withdrawal symptoms (heart racing, anxiety, sweating, diarrhea and constipation, nausea) after not using the JUUL (not fun!) and skipping out on social or normally fun activities to use the JUUL freely.
The JUUL is extremely easy to conceal since it is the size of a USB flash drive, and there is no smoke or odor produced when the JUUL is used. Additionally, in suburbs of Chicago many stores that sell JUUL products require a person to be 18 years old to purchase the JUUL and nicotine pods, however sometimes an ID is not checked before purchasing. In Chicago a person must be 21 to purchase. Since the JUUL is so easy to use without being noticed it can be difficult to know if your child is using it. Occasionally JUUL pods (or their colorful packaging) may be left around since they are so small and may be a clue that your child has a JUUL. The best thing to do is have an open conversation with your child about JUUL use in his or her school as well as the risk of addiction with using the JUUL and health consequences. Be a role model. Family and friends have a big influence in reducing risk-taking behaviors. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 if you, your family member or your friend need help.