E-cigarettes have undergone a rapid evolution with the latest device called a mod pod. The most popular example on the market right now is Juul (pronounced “jewel”) which looks like a USB flash drive and, in fact, can be plugged into a computer’s USB port to charge.
While the only flavor allowed for traditional cigarettes is menthol, e-cigs are virtually unregulated. They come in thousands of flavors — from bubble gum to fruit cereal. We’ve even seen “unicorn vomit” and “vampire blood.” These flavors clearly target youth. Kids also can personalize these devices with “skins,” another effective youth marketing tactic.
Several knock-off devices — such as the MarkTen Elite and the Suorin Air Pod Vaporizer — imitate Juul’s design in an attempt to garner some of the growing Juul market. And many mod pods are easily adapted to vape marijuana and other drugs.
E-cigs don’t create an odor like cigarettes or joints, so they’re harder for adults to detect. You may think they’ve yet to hit your home, classroom or community. But, according to data released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cig use among high schoolers has surged 78 percent since mod pods came on the market: one in five high school students now vape. Even middle-schooler use has grown by 48 percent — to one in 20. The Federal Drug Administration calls this upsurge in use an epidemic.
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Our concern is that the explosive popularity of these latest e-cig designs will reverse all the progress we’ve made in reducing smoking and related disease and death over the last 50 years. Kentucky already remains behind the rest of the nation in curbing tobacco use. So it behooves parents, teachers and others who work with kids to understand this dangerous new trend.
Mod pod e-cigs are battery-powered tobacco devices that heat nicotine, with pods that contain propylene glycol, other chemicals and the flavorings. When heated, the combination of nicotine, particulate matter, heavy metals and gas vapor creates an aerosol. This aerosol is inhaled into the lungs and quickly circulates into the brain. The experience is much smoother and more addictive than previous generations of e-cigs and vapes. Perhaps that’s why a Truth Initiative study found that 80 percent of 15 to 24-year-olds who try Juul continue to use the product.
Kids have even coined the word “Juuling” as a substitute for “vaping” with a Juul device. They also call the school restroom the “Juul Room,” and commonly post on social media such things as “addicted to my Juul.”
While the legal age to purchase any tobacco product in Kentucky is 18, federal studies show 71 percent of youth obtain this device from retail stores. Nearly half also report social sources such as friends or family members.
The Juul pod contains the equivalent nicotine to that found in a 20-pack of cigarettes (200 puffs). Yet the Truth Initiative study found that a majority of kids have no idea there is nicotine in the devices. We believe there’s no reason to put nicotine in these devices except to create new customers who, quite literally, can’t quit.
In addition to being addictive, nicotine and other substances harm the developing brain which continues to mature until the age of 25. And kids who vape are more likely use combustible cigarettes and put themselves at risk for multi-drug addiction.
Bottom line? There are absolutely no redeeming benefits for our youth to begin using nicotine e-cigarettes.
So don’t be fooled. The latest e-cig devices pose significant health hazards for today’s youth. We encourage parents, teachers and others who work with youth to recognize them for what they are: highly effective nicotine delivery devices designed to hook a new generation, and prevent today’s kids from overcoming Kentucky’s history of tobacco addiction and related disease.
Ben Chandler is president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Pat Withrow, M.D., is the director of outreach at Baptist Health Paducah.