Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Are our teenagers getting addicted to nicotine in class?
What can parents do about it?
It was brought to my attention today that in at least two middle schools near my Manhattan home, kids are selling JUUL in the school bathroom. This is a major problem! Now, I know what you may be thinking: “Limor, kids have been selling pot and other drugs in school bathrooms for years — why are you so up in arms about it now?” Well, first of all, I would be alarmed if my 13-year-old were smoking in any capacity. But there is a new trend sweeping the country that allows kids to buy drugs and smoke them in class literally at their desks without adults noticing, because it doesn’t give off an odor, and it looks like a USB flash drive. It’s widespread, and it’s scary.
Here’s what’s happening: Something that apparently “blew up” last summer is a trend called JUUL. I’d never heard of it before, and I’m assuming this is new to many of you as well. In this blog, I’ll go over what JUUL is, what the health risks are, and what we can do to stop it. My goal is to start a discussion among parents so that we can all be more knowledgeable and address the problem before it becomes even more rampant. My oldest daughter is 13 and she is the one who brought it to my attention. Raising teenagers today is just insane!
Unfortunately, schools are often limited in what they can do to help out with the problem, but I definitely suggest bringing it up to your school boards and principals. This is not just a “trend” or a “fad” that is going to go away. It’s something that could lead to long-term health problems and more serious drugs with severe consequences.
First off, here’s a brief guide on JUUL that I’ve compiled so we can help our kids by getting to the bottom of this.
What is JUUL?
JUUL is just another form of vaping -- but it’s sleek and trendy. The JUUL vaporizer looks like a USB flash drive, and it charges when plugged into a laptop. It can be filled with marijuana, a homemade concoction, or JUUL “pods,” which are vaporizer products that have more nicotine than any other vaping product. One JUUL pod has the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes! JUUL vaporizers were apparently made for adults who are trying to quit smoking, which might be true, but it’s also interesting to consider the fact that the oils have flavors like mango, creme brulee, and chocolate — pretty kid-friendly options, if you ask me.
JUUL entered the market in 2015 and gained quick popularity over the summer of 2017. Currently, many teenagers say that a majority of their peers own a JUUL device, and they even smoke them in school.
On the company’s website, it states, “The JUUL Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.” It goes on to say, “...smokers who want to switch are looking for something that does not look or feel like a cigarette.” For their part, they do talk about sale to minors, and how they are trying to combat it: “While we are dedicated to our mission of helping adults switch off cigarettes, we are also incredibly focused on combating underage use… Underage use of certain product categories remains a persistent problem, and at JUUL Labs we are committed to combating underage use of our product. While we have made strides, we are working on new approaches to address the issue more effectively.”
My question is, how can we all address the issue more effectively as a community, including parents, lawmakers, and the DOE?
Why do kids use it and how do they get it?
People get addicted to JUUL the exact same way they get addicted to cigarettes -- they try it once, love the immediate buzz, and keep doing it. Eventually the buzz wears off after each hit, and then they feel like they have to take hits just to feel normal. According to one Yale study, 25% of U.S. high schoolers had tried e-cigarettes, and 3.5% of U.S. middle schoolers had tried them. Many kids stated that they were less afraid of e-cigs, saying that they wouldn’t try real cigarettes but would try e-cigs.
According to the JUUL website, “The Starter Kit” includes a rechargeable JUUL device, a USB Charger, four JUULpods (Virginia Tobacco, Cool Mint, Fruit Medley, and Creme Brulee), and a one year limited device warranty. All for $50.
Kids cannot order JUUL from the JUUL online shop or buy it in a store, but keep in mind that kids can’t buy pot or alcohol in stores, yet they get those anyway. Think of any way that a high schooler might get their hands on weed or liquor -- fake IDs, stores selling illegally, older siblings, black market, you name it. We talked to a store owner on the Upper East Side who claimed that they never sell JUUL to underage kids, but that adults sometimes do come in and buy in bulk. The store wondered if those adults were selling to minors. You only have to be 18 to buy nicotine products like cigarettes and JUUL, so many high school seniors can legally purchase these products.
A bit of online research landed us at a Reddit thread titled, “How to get Juul as a minor,” in which teenagers comment on each others’ posts so they can figure out how to purchase a JUUL. Responses included the following: “eBay,” “Just talk to the cool vaper kids at your school lol. Almost every single middle school/high school these days tends to have such a group, and I am sure they have means/would be glad to sell you a real juul,” “Literally any gas station ever. As long as you look like you're old enough to drive, most workers don't [care]. If they ask for ID just give them ‘your birthday.’” “Go from gas station to station to gas station that’s how I got mine.”
You get the picture. If a kid wants to find a JUUL, he/she can figure it out.
What are the health risks of JUULing?
There is a common misconception among teens that JUULing and e-cigs are safe because they were designed to help adults quit smoking. While they are safer than smoking cigarettes, they are far from safe. The same cancer-causing lung issues are in e-cigarettes. Nicotine is damaging to brain development, which is especially worrying for people whose brains are still growing, like high schoolers. Nicotine is also addictive.
E-cigarettes are also very new, which means that there are fewer regulations in place. For example, the FDA has banned other flavored drugs such as cigarettes and tobacco products, but not yet in e-cigs.
E-cigs have a different health issue than cigarettes, which is a result of the inhalation of vaping liquid. The liquid is usually a combination of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavors, and nicotine or hash oils. The long-term effects are still unknown. Think about how people started getting lung cancer from non-stop cigarette smoking in the 50s and 60s -- the generation that is mostly in their 80s and 90s now. They had no idea that cigarettes could have such negative effects because long-term research hadn’t been done yet, and that’s exactly what I’m worried about with our kids today. None of us knows the consequences, and we won’t know them until the current batch of teenagers is older.
According to the American Lung Association, diacetyl, which is found in e-cigarettes, causes Popcorn Lung. You may remember diacetyl from popcorn products, when it was linked to factory worker death and bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a serious lung disease. It caused such a stir about a decade ago that it was quickly removed from all popcorn products… but the same chemical is found in most e-cigarettes today, along with two other harmful chemicals: pentanedione and acetoin. Diacetyl scars the tiny air sacs in the lungs, resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. Even if there is no nicotine present, kids are still breathing in hot liquids full of chemicals, which is harmful by itself.
What bothers me the most is that sales of regular cigarettes to teens have dropped in the past few years. To me, this means that vaping companies are using innocent, young children to make money, which horrifies me. Many experts also say that e-cigs are a gateway to regular cigarettes, which have been widely found over the years to be a gateway to other drugs as well.
In addition, we know that kids are using e-cigarette devices to smoke pot. Why? Well, for one, the smell is much more disguised so it can go unnoticed.
Another scary thing that kids do with e-cigs is something called “dripping.” Dripping is a more labor-intensive way to vape, in which a user manually puts a few drops of liquid directly on the exposed heating coil of the e-cigarette. The flavor, direct hit, and cloud intensify the user’s experience of vaping, which is why people take the extra time and effort to drip. Studies have shown that dripping also releases much more harmful chemicals than just smoking the e-cigarette.
How do I know if my child might be using JUUL?
Dehydration - Propulene glycol is a major ingredient in vaporized liquids. This chemical holds water molecules in the body, which results in increased thirst.
Aversion to Caffeine - One of the side effects is not wanting caffeine, so if your kid all of a sudden doesn’t want the coke they always ask for, it could be a sign.
Needing a Hit - If your child is addicted, they may need a hit every hour, or even less. They may disappear to the bathroom or their room every so often to vape.
Nosebleeds - The same effect that causes dehydration also dries out nasal passages, which sometimes leads to bloody noses.
Change in Habits - Some parents told us that they recognized the signs after the fact -- their child had been doing well in school, and all of a sudden started getting Cs and Ds. Keep in mind that this could be related to something entirely different, so it’s always good to look into it.
Scents - There isn’t a distinct odor like with weed or cigarettes, but sometimes you can catch a whiff of flavors like mint, fruit punch, or candy. If there is no gum, candy, or juice around, there is reason to be cautious.
What are schools doing about the problem?
To be clear, this is happening in public schools and in private schools. It’s happening within all demographics, across the entire country. Don’t think that your child is exempt from this trend.
I talked with the assistant principal at my daughter’s school and he said that, unless they are specifically told who the people using are, the only thing that the school can do is monitor bathrooms and other parts of the school in which kids are likely to sell JUUL. I also went to the governor’s office, and they said that a lot of people have been complaining about vaping in schools. In middle schools, administration is trying to be proactive, incorporating drug-related education into the curriculum, monitoring hallways and bathrooms, etc.
However, as parents, we know that those steps simply aren’t enough and unfortunately, not being informed is the worst thing we can do
What can I do?
How do we raise healthy kids in this society where things are so accessible? I strongly feel that this is about the community! We all have to work together to fix this. I want to call on each and every one of you to help me out.
I started a list of helpful tips from my friends who have teenagers. Here is the start of an eventual longer list of suggestions:
1. Urge schools to bring addiction specialists to speak with students about the dangers of drugs.
2. Urge schools to perform random searches in bags.
3. Urge schools to monitor areas where kids sell, and take actions that will prevent kids from selling drugs in schools.
4. Get involved in the DOE, and invite other parents to as well.
5. Talk to your kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes, whether you think they may be using them or not. Some kids told me that they didn’t know there were any dangers because it “didn’t seem like as bad of a drug as cigarettes.” Talk to your kids!
Here’s a suggestion I love from a friend. At first, it might seem like over monitoring or policing your kid too much, but you may find that it helps your relationship with your kid, and turns into a positive thing. I definitely think it’s worth a try. She bought a nicotine tobacco testing kit, which can be found on Amazon for under $10, and she told her son that she may use it in the future. She hasn’t used it, but the fact that her son knows that she has it means that he doesn’t want to smoke or vape. He told her that it actually helped him get out of being pressured by his friends because he could use the excuse that his mom would test him at home if he vaped. It passed the blame to someone else other than him, which gave him an easy out.
What else can you do? Here’s a huge one -- let’s come together as a community and figure this out! If you are a parent to a teen, let’s get together in a room with other parents to brainstorm as a team! Let me know if you’d like to join. I am forming a parent group to come up with bigger and better ideas about how we can take action NOW to make a change. To start, we will meet monthly in person with a Facebook Live meeting.
Are you concerned about vaping? What can you do as a parent, and what can we do as a community? I want to start a discussion. We can work together as a community, whether you live near me in Manhattan or across the country. If you want to get together and make a change, message me! Tell me your stories. Tell me your challenges, your advice, your worries, your successes!
Let me know if you’re interested, no matter where you reside. Make your voice heard! I can’t wait to get this started!
If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!