If you didn’t know better, you’d mistake the super-sleek, discrete device called a Juul as a USB flash drive. But the electronic storage unit isn’t holding files, it’s storing the newest form of liquid nicotine.
Smoking it even has its own verb, juuling. It was designed for adults as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. The thing is, most adults have never heard of it, but most teenagers have.
“The reality in our youth is that they’re actually starting their nicotine addiction through these e-cigarettes because of the culture that’s surrounding it and the cool nature,” said Diane Litterer, CEO and executive director of New Jersey Prevention Network.
“More and more young people use these products and think that they’re not addictive or as dangerous as tobacco, as cigarettes for example, and in fact that’s not true,” said Rep. Frank Pallone.
Pallone is calling out the FDA for delaying a rule that will allow Juul to stay on the market until 2022 without review or regulation. Each of the pods used in a Juul is equivalent to about 200 puffs, or a pack of cigarettes.
“The FDA has practically no ability to regulate them or take them off the market if they’re dangerous. That’s wrong,” said Pallone.
“These Juul devices have candy and fruit flavors that were designed to appeal to youth, to children essentially, and they encourage youth to take up traditional cigarettes,” said Dr. Kristen Walsh of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“We are finding there are issues with suspensions because students are going into the bathrooms and actually smoking and getting suspended from school,” said Diana Robinson, director of Child and Adolescent Health for Central Jersey Family Health Consortium.
The vape cloud is so small and dissipates so quickly, not only can students hide the Juul as a school supply, there’s little trace of it after use. You have to be 21 to buy it, but in the world of online retail, that’s no problem for kids with a strong will.
“There have been several cases where children have gone online in their parents’ names, gotten their parents credit cards, and bought large amounts of these Juul devices and then sold them to all their friends,” said Walsh.
Although flavored cigarettes were banned in New Jersey, tobacco use claims nearly 12,000 lives a year, and costs just over $4 billion in health care bills. Right now, about 8 percent of New Jersey’s high school students smoke.
It took the state decades to get the teen smoking rate down. Right now, the number who use e-cigarettes or other electronic devices hovers just above 12 percent. The worry is that if this remains unregulated for the next several years, that rate will skyrocket.
“More than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students have used e-cigarette devices in the past 30 days, including over 4 percent of middle school children and 11 percent, at least, of high school students, and we think that number is growing faster than we can keep track of it,” said Walsh.
School administrators are having a hard time keeping up. Some are banning kids from bringing real flash drives with them to class, hoping at the very least, warning labels and regulations will wave a red flag.