Juuling, vaping – whatever you want to call it, it’s very popular and, unfortunately, very dangerous. Juul has actually become so popular that it now accounts for a whopping 68% of the $2 billion e-cigarette market – and each Juul pod contains 20 times the nicotine of a single cigarette. You never want to hear “serious health risk” and “extremely popular” in the same sentence, but that’s exactly what we’re looking at here. And given that Juul is under federal investigation for deliberately marketing to teenagers, we definitely see quite a few bright red flags waving frantically about this issue. As Denver’s first integrative pediatrician practice (founded in 1977!), we’ve seen a thing or two, and we have serious concerns about this trend and its implications for your child and family.
What is Juuling?
Juul hit the market in June 2015, a product of PAX Labs. It has the size and look of a slightly elongated flash drive (which makes it very discreet and easy to hide), and uses pods containing flavored liquid nicotine. Each pod contains as much nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes and is designed to give the user a nicotine high within five minutes – similar to traditional cigarettes. Stanford Professor of Pediatrics Bonnie Halpern-Felsher – who studies nicotine – called the amount in each pod “scary”, stating that the amount “is much higher than what we’re seeing in traditional e-cigarettes. It’s a tremendous amount.” This means that the product is designed to be highly addictive, thus ensuring continued purchases and ongoing usage. Its unique nicotine salt-based formula also means it’s less harsh, leading users to Juul without being aware of how much nicotine they’re taking into their system. And given that a Juul emits only a small amount of smoky vapor, it’s extremely discreet and easy to use indoors.
As we mentioned above, the FDA is investigating Juul for deliberately marketing to teenagers. With fun flavors like creme brulee and mango, its marketing’s focus on sex appeal, fun and youth (Juul was using 21 year-old models for quite some time) and its leveraging of youthful social media “influencers”, the appeal to teens is hard to miss. Add its discreet design, easy-to-hide design into the mix (we all know how teenagers love to keep secrets), and you’ve got yourself a really problematic cocktail. Teen usage is on the rise – even prompting FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to call it an “epidemic” – and unfortunately we see it more and more. Getting addicted to any substance at any age is bad news, but youth becoming addicted to nicotine is a plague on their mind, body and spirit.
This is one “chronic condition” you want to avoid! Addiction to nicotine – especially at a young age – can create a variety of medical conditions that necessitate more and more health care and visits to your primary care doctor that wouldn’t have been necessary without the addiction. First, nicotine negatively impacts developing teens’ brains, impacting their cognitive development and ability to think at a high level. Teenagers are also more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still maturing. Introducing an addiction to a substance like nicotine can alter the course of a young brain’s development, causing undue anxiety, restlessness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Nicotine addiction at a young age can also lead to a heightened risk for lifelong addiction issues with other substances. And since many teens have no idea how much nicotine is in a Juul pod, or even necessarily how harmful nicotine can be, this creates a potentially enormous issue in the life of a teenager that could haunt them for decades.
And no, this isn’t just coming from our training as holistic pediatricians or from our integrative approach to conventional western medicine. This “epidemic”, as FDA Chief Gottlieb called it, is an undeniable threat to our children’s health. No amount of integrative medicine, conventional medicine or patient-centered natural healing – as safe and effective as they are – can magically cure addiction, unfortunately. It’s safe to say that being addicted to nicotine isn’t on the list of anyone’s recommendations for pediatric care.
How Do I Help Prevent This From Harming My Children?
We all have our own unique ways of parenting that work great for our families, but in many cases, we find that simply talking to your kids about issues like this is the best medicine. Over the past 42 years, we’ve found that great pediatric health care is all about warm, caring relationships and open communication, and the same goes for all relationships with loved ones.
While we probably all roll our eyes when we look back at Public Service Announcements and “Very Special Episodes” of Saved By The Bell, there are some helpful resources for parents looking to speak to their kids about Juuling and e-cigarettes worth looking into. The Surgeon General has actually put together a helpful guide for doing just that.
Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind:
- Have a conversation, don’t lecture. Think back to when you were their age: your tolerance for being lectured by your parents, on a scale from 1 to 10, was probably about -37. Have a dialogue with them and try to understand and empathize with whatever they have to say. Maybe they’ve already made up their mind never to try Juuling, maybe they tried it and didn’t like it, or maybe they’re using it every day.
- Remember that there may be social pressures to fit in involved. Teenagers can be very cliquish, and will often do things primarily to fit in with their friends. If Juuling is an “in” thing at your kid’s school or in their social circle, you may have to contend with that, and there also may be an aspect of fear of not fitting in involved – which you can empathize with.
- Learn the facts. Being able to speak credibly and back up your statements always helps. Check out some of the links we’ve included to help educate yourself ahead of time – and maybe even give you good material to share with your child.
Closing Thoughts from a Denver Pediatrician
As much as we may want to sometimes, we can’t control everything our child does. That’s part of the beautiful challenge of being a child – and a parent. Juuling isn’t the first landmine we’ve encountered as a culture, and it won’t be the last, either. But it is a trend that warrants serious concern, and we want to support you and your family on your journey together. If you have any further questions about Juuling, we strongly encourage you to contact us and talk to your pediatrician about it. At Partners In Pediatrics, we strive to be your family’s true medical home, and we are here to do what we can to support you and your children. Stay healthy out there!