The traditional image of tobacco’s Marlboro Man is being replaced by the reality of a younger generation of tobacco users, hooked not on the old-school cigarettes of their parents’ generation but the e-cigarette, a battery-operated device that contains a solution of nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals that turns it into a mist that can be inhaled into the lungs.
Also known as vaping, it has become the most popular form of tobacco use among teenagers in the U.S. and its popularity is on the rise. According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released in February, tobacco product use among youth is increasing. More than 1 in 4 high school students and approximately 1 in 14 middle school students in 2018 had used a tobacco product in the past 30 days, a considerable increase from 2017. This increase, CDC said, was driven by an increase in e-cigarette use, which went from 11.7% to 20.8 percent among high school students and 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent among middle school students.
The brand Juul, whose e-cigarettes shaped like a USB flash drive make them easy to conceal from adults and whose pods come in flavors like mint, mango, crème, fruit and cucumber, have become especially popular among teens. The use of this product has been dubbed “Juuling.”
Enticing flavors are not the only things the pods hold; each one contains at least as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
Local schools are not immune to the issue. One student at Randall Middle School, who prefers to remain anonymous, said students are brazenly “Juuling” right in the classroom.
“Students will wait until teachers turn their back and then take a puff from their Juul and blow the smoke into their sweatshirt,” said the student, who has also seen them used in the bathrooms and hallways.
The Media Outreach rep for the School District of Hillsborough County, who recognizes that there is e-cigarette use in schools, said the consequences for being caught vaping on school property would be the same as consequences for its cigarette policy.
“It’s typically an administrative response,” she said.
Consequences could include a student/parent/administrator conference, parent notification, reteaching of rules and expectations, in-school suspension or loss of privileges depending on the details of the incident.
The big question is, how are students under the age of 18 getting their hands on these products? By law, people under the age of 18 should not be able to purchase tobacco products. Truth Initiative, an advocacy group committed to a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco, surveyed more than 1,000 12 to 17-year-olds and found almost 74 percent purchased the product at a physical retail location. Older friends and family members in almost half of the instances purchased the product for them.
Although Juul Labs had committed to refrain from selling the flavored pods in retail locations, local stores still have them on their shelves.
The best defense against the increasing popularity of these products is for parents to be aware that the use of these odorless products is occurring. The U.S. Surgeon General encourages parents to talk to their children about the dangers of e-cigarettes. Be clear about your disapproval of them smoking or using e-cigarettes and encourage them to live tobacco-free.
Visit e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov for a tip sheet for parents to know how to talk to children about e-cigarettes.