The JUUL Matrix

Theo Weldon

As little as 20 years ago, over one-third of American students smoked cigarettes on at least a weekly basis. It took years of widespread ad campaigns and millions of dollars in medical research to finally get that number under 10% in 2014. The most effective way to accomplish this was not to tell these teens that their behavior was immoral or that smoking was their “one-way ticket to hell” but rather to point out the clear and well-documented health effects of smoking. It’s difficult to play off smoking as a habitual stress reliever considering 90% of lung cancer deaths are linked to cigarette smoking, and teens realized that a quick high isn’t worth setting themselves up for tragedy later in life. That said, where there is demand there will be supply, and just one year after smoking rates finally fell below the 10% mark, JUUL products hit the market. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, on the street or in the Latin School of Chicago, chances are someone near you is in possession of or currently using a JUUL. According to The Truth Initiative, around 18% of American teens age 15-17 reported to using JUULs in October 2018, up from 10% just 6 months earlier. This rise in usage is unprecedented for e-cigarettes, and has been mainly propelled by JUUL’s (the company) predatory ad campaigns explicitly targeting teens and young adults. The prevalence of “flavoring” compounded with the easy to use nature of JUUL products makes them appealing and accessible to younger teens. The lack of tobacco leaves and the notorious smell of smoke also leads to the misconception that JUULs are a simpler and less harmful alternative to cigarettes. But the health detriments of JUULing are very real, and they’re already being observed throughout the nation.

The primary difference between JUULs and e-cigarettes that makes the former so desirable is the nicotine dosage. A JUUL pod contains 5% nicotine by volume, more than double the dosage of other e-cig cartridges. In addition, JUUL uses nicotine salts in their products rather than the traditional freebase nicotine. This key change allows the body to more readily absorb nicotine into the bloodstream, as well as making the vapor less volatile and easier to inhale for extended periods of time. It may not have the other chemicals of tobacco in it, but nicotine by itself is an incredibly addictive substance that can affect the development of adolescent brains. Teenagers who use JUULs frequently are more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental afflictions on top of addiction. The health effects of JUULs go beyond just the mind, the inhalation of toxins found in them can cause lung and cardiovascular disease as easily as tobacco-based cigarettes. In August, the first death of a lung disease directly related to vaping occurred here in Illinois, and today there are nearly 200 more cases of the illness nationwide. Considering that JUULs have only been prominent for the last few years, these cases could just be the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds if not thousands of other people could be slowly developing these lung complications due to frequent JUUL use. 

JUULing can lead to serious health problems for both body and mind. But this article is meant to be informative, not persuasive. Frankly, this particular “journalist” couldn’t care less about whatever vices teenagers want to indulge in. What is important, however, is staying informed about the nature and possible consequences of these indulgences. The targeted advertising and mainstream popularity of JUULs cause uninformed buyers to skip the research and pay the price. Keeping aware can prevent, or at least control, the negative effects of these substances.

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