With vaping emerging as a public health crisis, Juul, one of the leading vape companies, is fending off a bevy of government agencies for its role in fanning the epidemic flames. Recently, Time Magazine did an expose titled The New American Addiction: How Juul Hooked Kids & Ignited a Public Health Crisis, which explores Juul’s business tactics and the growing forces that led to the outbreak. In recent months, the company has been valued at $38 billion by its investors.

“Critics argue that Juul has assiduously followed Big Tobacco’s playbook: aggressively marketing to youth and making implied health claims a central pillar of its business plan,” writes Jamie Ducharme for Time. As such, “on Sept. 9, the Food & Drug Administration sent Juul a warning letter accusing the company of [these practices]… and the Trump Administration said it planned to pull from the market flavored e-cigarettes.”

But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Juul began laying the foundation a few years ago with a lavish launch party and product roll out. To target teens, the company went to schools and developed curriculums to educate students about healthy lifestyles and the harmful effects of addiction to substances like nicotine. But the tactic may have been a smoke screen to get the word out on a new product in town that promises to be safer than traditional cigarettes. As a result, students in these programs “thought it was just a flavor device that didn’t have any harmful substances in it,” Caleb Mintz, interviewed for Time, told Congress in a testimony in July. Juul stopped the programs when they received negative feedback.

Juul is feeling the heat. In addition to bans and government agency oversight, Juul replaced its CEO, which coincided with pulling its advertising expenditures. “[Juul] has suspended its broadcast, digital and print advertising in the U.S.,” writes Bruce Haring for Deadline. “The firm spent $104 million in the first half of 2019, according to Kantar Media, up enormously from 2018.”

Still, there is much criticism directed toward the swift response from the government. “This dramatic response to the problem of youth vaping stands in stark contrast to the way lawmakers and agencies have handled other similar — and as of now — more deadly health issues,” writes Michael Siegel for the L.A. Times. “One-third of high school seniors consume alcoholand half of them are drinking flavored alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is responsible for more than 4,300 deathsamong underage youth each year; yet federal policymakers have not banned the sale of all flavored alcoholic beverages.”

Siegel argues that, similar to the opioid crisis, public health problems like these only get attention when they creep into affluent and mostly white communities. And turns out, studies show a majority of adolescent vape users are affluent teens.

Regardless of where you stand on the argument and how long Juul stands to operate as a business, as an addiction specialist, I believe addiction – whether to the nicotine in a vape product, opioids or online gambling – is a sensitive topic worthy of public debate. Juul and the vaping crisis has put addiction in the spotlight – a much needed discussion the American people need to address, especially since the issue involves the youth of our nation.

As such, I believe education is the best way to unpack a problem and come up with real world solutions. To help readers further understand the topic, here are some facts about vaping:

  1. Unlike tobacco, the liquid doesn’t burn, the vapor exhaled is thin and feathery, nearly invisible to the naked eye. Flavors range from fruity to minty, and these battery-operated devices are so sleek and small in design, they can pass for a flash drive or pencil in a school classroom.
  2. Evidence of the risks involved with the new generation switching to e-cigarettes is piling up. “School and health officials say several things are clear… Nicotine is highly addictive, the pods in vaping devices have a higher concentration of nicotine than do individual cigarettes, and a growing body of researchindicates that vaping is leading more adolescents to try cigarettes,” writes Kate Zernike for The New York Times.
  3. A December 2018 articlein the Daily Mailreports that the growing amount of damning evidence about the risks of e-cigarettes and growing teen use prompted the U.S. Surgeon General to declare the problem an epidemic.
  4. Sold as a way for smokers to quit cigarettes, teens are caught in the crossfire due to mixed messaging about the “benefits” of vaping. “E-cigarettes sit in the middle of a tug-of-war between being a device that is harmful to children, but potentially helpful to adult cigarette smokers,” writes Laura Kelly for the Washington Times. “In surveys of teenagers, smoking cigarettes is viewed as unacceptable, but e-cigarettes are the “healthier alternative.”’
  5. According to a report in the Daily Mail, “an estimated 3.6 million US teens are now using e-cigarettes, representing one in 5 high school students and one in 20 middle schoolers” and rates have doubled over the past year.
  6. It’s not just nicotine and other harmful chemicals inhaled through the use of e-cigarettes and vape pens. Marijuana cartridges are popular with teens, too. CBS News reports nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students, which represents 2 million people, have tried vaporizing marijuana, as published in a school-based survey. Marijuana is particularly harmful to a teen’s developing brain. “Damage to brain function from the drug can be worse during adolescence,” says Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a developmental psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. “Marijuana use has been linked to depression and memory problems. Once marijuana is introduced, you’re altering the brain forever.”
  7. New research has found traces of toxic metals in e-liquids – substances like formaldehyde (a gas found in fertilizers, pesticides and other products) and acetaldehyde, which may contain carcinogens that can cause cancer, writes Science News for Students. In fact, a researcher at UC Berkeley, Catherine Hess, has found “traces of toxic metals in the e-liquids used in five different brands of e-cigarettes.” These are naturally occurring metals, however, “inside the body… they can cause trouble.”
  8. Nicotine addiction is a symptom of the vaping epidemic. In fact, according to Joanne Ebner, manager of cancer prevention services at the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, the hospital (she works for) has seen an uptick in the number of parents looking for nicotine addiction treatment for their teenage son or daughter hooked on e-cigarettes. “We now have for the first time in this country, in a long time, the prospect of a lot of kids being currently addicted to nicotine,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb to the Washington Times.
  9. Recent evidence shows reportsof dozens of teens experiencing breathing and lung problems from vaping. Many have been hospitalized and the numbers are growing. Though more research needs to be done, excessive vaping is linked to these growing respiratory problems.

If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to contact me.