For many of us, visible tobacco use exists only in the past. In the greater Columbia, SC area, the local governments banned smoking inside workplaces, bars, and restaurants in 2009. Before legal bans, many places of business relegated smoking to the outdoor parts of their property. The days of “smoking or non” upon entering a restaurant passed long ago. The dangers of second hand smoke proved too great and too well known to allow a business to thrive while people actively partook of cigarettes.
Smoking and other kinds of tobacco existed as a right of passage for many young people in years past. With smoking largely gone (though not among the nation’s poorest people), should we understand teenage tobacco use to remain only a memory?
Enter Juul, at a company valued at $15 billion.
Juul (often stylized as "JUUL") currently owns the e-cigarette market, and according to its creators, should serve only as a means for cigarette users to cease using cigarettes. The device looks much like a USB drive, and it converts liquid from a small pod to vapor for the purpose of inhaling. It comes in a variety of flavors and nicotine strengths. During its 2015 advertising campaign, Juul used models on social media to promote itself. Where Marlboro used Western imagery and Virginia Slims pictured young socialites on billboards and magazine spreads, Juul understood their own context with amazing returns. As stated above, the company stands valued at $15 billion. For comparison’s sake, the retail chain, Target, rests at a worth of $40 billion. In a few short years, Juul attained a value nearly half that of a decades-old popular retail chain.
You Have My Attention, Go On
We all live busy lives, what attention should Juul demand from us? Note several things:
1. Each Juul pod contains about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
2. Juul itself notes its product is addictive.
3. E-cigarettes and vaping remain relatively new phenomena, and their longterm effects have yet to show.
4. While Juul does not have many of the harmful effects of cigarettes, such as the effect of secondhand smoke, it has different harmful effects.
Juul remains a tobacco product though one distinct from cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. The things you know and understand from the campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s concerning cigarettes do not necessarily apply. The vaping industry and culture has an interest in moving its product and generating revenue. Ergo, plugging “Juul” or “juuling” into a search engine produces many returns having the same value of an empty banana peel.
When asked about e-cigarettes, my general experience amounts to claims of complete harmlessness involving the phrase, “studies show.” Any time someone claims a study shows anything, we should ask the following: what study shows what? For example, many claim Juul and other e-cigarettes produce a condition known as popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans). Often e-cigarette users will say, “studies show vaping does not cause popcorn lung.” I found such a claim here. However, if one takes the time to read, even the blog (which does not link the study), the study evaluated air quality in vape shops. Vape shops allow use of e-cigarettes indoors, thus creating a closed environment where chemicals released from e-cigarettes remain in more concentrated amounts than they would outdoors. According to the blog, the air quality remained at a normal level. However, by the blog’s own reasoning, the study did not evaluate effects vaping of any sort had by delivering a concentrated amount of chemicals from an e-cigarette directly into the lungs. So, do we know if e-cigarettes cause popcorn lung? No, we do not. Neither has a claim become invalid. As with many things about e-cigarettes, Juul included, we do not know.
OK, Now What?
Avoid two extreme reactions. Your teen needs parents, not interrogators. Avoid going into a confrontation on this matter with guns blazing. Likewise, avoid eschewing the issue. Particularly in the southeastern USA, convictions and opinions on tobacco use are legion. Ask ten people about tobacco, and one will receive ten different responses. Know that Juul represents something new, something unknown when Gen Xers and Millennials were teenagers. If your teen uses Juul, they do something quite different than many of us puffing on Swisher Sweets at 18 to feel cool and edgy. If your teen juuls, he or she receives a high dose of nicotine directly into his or her lungs. He or she has a decent likelihood of becoming addicted. At the very least, understand your teen digs a money pit by utilizing Juul.
What does your teen actually think on the matter? Why does he or she do it? Can you help them think through it? Can you explain why our lack of understanding of the effects of Juul should warn us against using it? Can you show why the product seems so attractive—namely Juul wants to make money? Can you explain that they are image bearers of God, not a commodity? Can you reveal to them the voluntary enslavement to something, that they can become mastered by something other than Christ?
A few things to note as you approach your teen:
1. The only other known use for nicotine is as a natural insecticide. Studies conflict on nicotine as an actual carcinogen, but nicotine certainly does not have a benign nature.
2. The marketing tactics of Juul and other e-cigarette manufactures certainly targeted young people, as a recent press announcement by the FDA indicated. The health and minds of our teenagers exists as a commodity to these companies, nothing more.
3. When it comes to the actual effects of Juuling, we do not know for certain what they will prove to be. Maybe it produces popcorn lung, maybe not. For comparison, we sit in the same place as we did with cigarettes and asbestos in the 1950s. Peddlers of the product rely on (sometimes willful) ignorance to profit.
Make no mistake, Juul produces addiction. Addiction produces financial irresponsibility among other manifestations of lack of self control. Likewise, juuling does harm the user.
As the parent, you have the authority to assert yourself here. Part of wisdom as we mature is understanding why our parents prevented us from doing certain things when we were younger. For those of us involved in the lives of teenagers, the phenomenon of Juul and other e-cigarettes gives us the opportunity to use our minds for God’s glory and to the benefit of our teenagers.
FactCheck: The Facts on E-Cigarettes
Forbes: E-Cigs Addicting The Masses: 'We Are Experimenting On Teenagers' Lungs,' Warns Stanford Professor
CDC: Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults
Time: Teens Are 'Juuling' At School. Here's What That Means