Volume Ten: Dude, Where's My Juul?

An opinion piece on the general topic of Juul use among young people.

Oh no, I lost my Juul again.

I feel like this phrase should be 2018's phrase of the year, or maybe added as a synonym for panic.

The explosion of the E-Cigarette Juul has been well documented and well reported on, following its 78 percent increase among high schoolers of America, and more alarmingly, 48 percent for middle schoolers, according to the CDC. Not surprisingly, this has become the latest crusade for Washington lawmakers who have taken steps to try and limit the appeal and accessibility of Juul for underage people through proposed regulations from the FDA.

But if you are at all observant, or you know someone who uses a Juul, these proposed regulations have done next to nothing to limit the flavors available. Ultimately, we all know underage people will find new and creative ways to feed a Juul habit. Adding nicotine to an age group that already has a predisposition to fight authority, and you have a hormonal snowball that leads to some pretty serious addictions, meaning these kids WILL find a way to get Juul pods.

I have followed this, largely in part to the fact that it is thrown in my face by news outlets on a daily basis. It has continued to bother me that there are some glaring issues with the way people are looking at the rapid growth of e-cigarette use. No one necessarily cares to look at why a young person would be inclined to pick up an e-cigarette, and lend themselves to blaming advertising by Juul and their appealing flavors as the primary causes for the growth of use.

There is also an uncertainty factor to the use of e-cigarettes, because no one truly can say what the negative side effects of these devices are, unlike a cigarette or typical tobacco products which have studies linking them to an increase in cancer.

Could Juul be the next cigarette? Will these kids be hit with a massive wave of long term side effects from Juuling when they get older?

It would seem that way from what you can read on the internet. And who's to say that is wrong. It would stand to reasons that Juuling is not great for you if the option to not use it at all exists, but is it really going to be a ca life threatening product?

While I am certainly advocating the use of Juuls, the questions still remains.

What is the real cause of the rise in Juul use by so many underage people?

What is a Juul

I can personally remember seeing Juuls as early as 2016, roughly three years from the time of writing this article.

But the real increase in the popularity of Juul has been much shorter than 3 years. As I discussed above, Juul has risen exponentially in 2018, but the actual device was officially launched in 2015.

From the best I can understand through research, they were formed by Juul-labs which has now become Pax-labs. Or maybe the other way around. Who really cares where it came from, this isn't a biography on their company.

More importantly, for those of you reading this that don't know what a Juul is or how a Juul works, here is an explanation from truth initiative.org:

JUUL devices heat up a cartridge containing oils to create vapor, which quickly dissolves into the air. The device is small enough to fit in a closed fist and has a sleek, tech-inspired design that resembles a USB flash drive.

One of the primary benefits according to the makers of Juul, is the way in which they extract nicotine, opting for nicotine salts found in leaf tobacco. As explained by tobccofreekids.org :

The company claims that the nicotine in JUUL is from “nicotine salts found in leaf tobacco, rather than free- base nicotine,” which they claim “accommodate cigarette-like strength nicotine levels.”

And while this doesn't assuage the fears of parents, understand that the initial intention of this product was as a safer option to quit smoking, not a new habit for young people. Or so the story goes. And to a certain point, that is probably a fair assumption, since I doubt the makers of Juul expected to see a "621 percent year over year growth" last year.

But the fears don't seem to so much be the simple use of Juul, while still alarming in its popularity, but rather the increase in likeliness of young people crossing over to actual cigarettes when Juul isn't enough. But I will cover that later.

The reality is, that this device is easy to conceal, offers many appealing flavor options, leaves little to no detectable odor, and short of outright catching your child or drug testing them for nicotine, there is no real way to know if they are using this product. And as I mentioned before in regards to young people's creativity, outright catching them is harder than it sounds.

But it was the flavors which law makers settled on as the main cause of Juuls popularity with young people.

Juul V. the United States

No, this is not the actual name of the actions taken against Juul, but it has certainly seemed that way.

In November, the FDA released new regulation proposals on e-cigarettes, with an emphasis on Juul, in an effort to curb it's rise among young people. These regulations included banning certain flavors, and limiting their availability to minors. Juul responded in kind by ending the sale of all but three flavors of pods (virgina tobacco, menthol and mint), and also placed age restrictions on their website for people trying to buy these products online.

I can personally attest to the protections Juul placed on their website, because I paid a visit myself to see if it would be possible to buy Juul products under the age of 21 from their website, and their main line of defense lies in your social security number or photo I.D. with proof of age. While it might seem perfectly easy to make a fake I.D. and upload that, I failed in my duty as a college student by not having a fake handy and was not able to test this theory.

The point is, there are some actual restrictions on the website, limiting under age purchase there. But it would not stop a minor from making a purchase of their own by finding someone of legal age, willing to buy a Juul or the pods from a local gas station. And while attendants at gas stations have probably gotten more stringent about checking photo I.D.s on Juul sales, they can't follow every person that buys these devices out the door which means there are some gaps in the system.

But this isn't the crusade being launched. The main idea is to make it hard enough to purchase Juul products that children finally give up, because as history has shown, telling kids what they can and cannot do will work.

The Future of Juul

While I understand it is easy for me to pick apart the moves being made to limit the use of Juul by underage people, I believe there are some clear points that have yet to be made on this issue.

While limiting the accessibility of Juul to underage people would certainly have some positive affects in curbing the purchasing of new Juul products, the window for stopping the usage of these products would seemingly lie in the high school years before kids turn 18 when they can legally begin to purchase these products on their own.

This time frame includes my assumption that the growth in middle school use comes from filtered down, second hand Juuls, that I would bet most middle schoolers are getting their hands on. But I could be wrong.

Point is, limiting the availability of Juul to high schoolers would certainly limit the excess number of Juuls floating around and available to middle schoolers, but the high school age group will still find a way to get their hands on a Juul for themselves, making them the target age range for cutting off this habit at the outset.

So let's look at some obvious reasons kids might Juul, and how these affect the proposed goal of curbing e-cigarette use:

1) Nicotine buzz.

2) Appealing flavors.

3) Easy to hide design.

4) No residual smell.

While the last two are rather inescapable or unchangeable, the first two offer some options in the way of alternative solutions, assuming the FDA doesn't force Juul to over haul their product design, in which case I will be waiting to see if they treat it like gasoline, putting in a scent additive to leave behind a faintly noticeable odor.

Imagine walking into your house and smelling gasoline. Apart from fearing for your life from a gas main break, this would be a pretty effective way for parents to catch their kids, albeit unrealistic.

"Honey, Johnny is Juuling again, the whole house smells like a gas station parking lot."

But I digress.

Nicotine Buzz

While this may be the one thing that has no real answer, I would push to look at the root cause of this desire for nicotine. It has been well documented that mental health issues among young people is on the rise, and it would seem pretty safe to assume that this means a rise in stress for high school students.

I can't start this by saying nothing is being done to remove stress from young people. I go to a university where someone actually claims a squirrel as a support animal, something I actually related to in 2011. But for people who don't find comfort or inspiration in rodents, among other animals, there need to be legitimate ways to curb stress during the day.

Education is the key to that. Look, having safe spaces and sleeping pods in the office is hip and all, but one of the greatest gifts I was ever given in my life was the ability to go to a "college-prep" high school, essentially meaning I was given equal amounts of class time and down time during my daily schedule, so I had to learn how to handle this free time effectively to succeed.

Giving students classes where they can learn how to handle their schedule, and pushing them to maybe lean on the side of overloading their schedule is more a benefit than a detriment in the long run.

Now look, I understand, it is very easy to over load and over work high school students, and it would seem that this would add stress. But in reality, it is both my belief and experience, that I found more comfort and relaxation knowing that my life was under control because I was capable of organizing my schedule. Simply having confidence in your ability to be an adult can have a huge positive effect on your self confidence.

And the ensuing happiness I received from this was better than any buzz I could have felt off of nicotine, not to mention the self confidence and independence you can gain from successfully navigating hard schedules.

Redefining failure in these situations is also a great idea for improving the mental health of students.

Not in the cliche way, but in a more realistic way. Failure at a young age is life's best teacher, and it was something I found actual pleasure in, rather than disappointment. No I was not that bright and cheery. I simply enjoyed finding my limits in ability, and finding new ways to grow that.

Think of it this way. If a teacher encourages you to fail, you are more likely to succeed.

But Collin you idiot, that doesn't make sense. But it does.... to me at least.

If you were simply to encourage failure as a teacher, not in the sense that you want to see students fail in life, but that failure is really a good thing, because it is showing you ways in which to better yourself.

Now sure, maybe this is a cliche statement, but if I had teachers that supported the idea that I failed trying, I would have been more likely to try again. This in turn, would make me more likely to learn and succeed, especially if my failures were preceded by hands on work learning the material from class. Making failure a normal part of life, and not an embarrassing meme or a depressing moment would certainly help younger people find comfort in the small short falls early on.

It essentially comes down to understanding the positive sides of private failure in order to succeed in public. I would compare it to an athlete in practice.

How many times as an athlete did I make a mistake in practice? How many times did anyone outside of the team know or care that I messed up?

A billion, and zero.

Thats the point of practice. Fail on a small scale, to succeed on a big scale. Today's society is succeed on a small scale with grades, and find yourself unprepared for the real world, starting as early as college. I personally felt this was relatable in many different ways, and I have had to make some pretty quick changes to adjust myself to college.

Creating a systemized mental process by which students can work to achieve goals would, in my mind, help to alleviate some of the root causes of increased mental health problems in young people.

It also wouldn't hurt if my failure while trying wasn't graded, but I am also not stupid in understanding how easily a grade-less system could be abused by lazier students. It is a complicated issue.

But it starts with making students more willing to care about their health. Educating students not only can have a positive affect on their mental health, but can help them deal with stress better than needing to use a Juul. In reality, it still will all come down to how willing young people are to quit, and that may be one side of the issue that regulations or lawmakers simply can't change, but they may be able to curb it.

Appealing Flavors

This to me has become largely irrelevant. While it would seem like at least a great way to curb new users, the issue is peer pressure, or simply the desire to fit in during the high school years, which would certainly make it a lot easier for young people to move past the idea of needing fruity flavors for a buzz. Plus, its just trying new things for high school students.

And what then, for the users who already are addicted?

Speaking from what I have witnessed, removing certain flavors will not stop people who are already addicted to Juul. I point to a comment a past coach of mine once made on his chewing tobacco habit:

You have to really force yourself to want to enjoy this stuff, and then you are just hooked. This shit is really nasty, but here I am still using it.

The sentiment is clear. Sometimes kids just do things because they can, even if it tastes bad or isn't as appealing as a mango Juul pod. The time for limiting the flavor options has come and gone. I now go back to education once more.

For anyone following this story on your own, you will know that big tobacco company Altria, the maker of Marlboro, recently bought a 35 percent stake in Juul, worth 12.8 billion dollars. As a future communications major, this is the type of media movement that I am being trained to understand.

Following the movement and dealings of a company like Juul is not rocket science either.

I won't be the first person to say this when I tell you there needs to be a social media education class in high school, preparing students for the real world effects of social media. After the amount of times 2018 saw celebrities, athletes particularly, lives negatively affected by old social media posts only increases the need for a greater understanding of this aspect of society.

This also ties into the complaints that Juuls advertising, both through flavored pods and social media imagery, was geared towards young people.

Taking this all now back to the idea that young people typically do not respond well to adults telling them what to do, specifically their parents and especially the government, it stands to reason that the adults could get a leg up on those "meddling kids". Am I showing my age already with that reference?

Simply educating kids, and arming them with the understanding of social media, allowing them to think for themselves would make them, in my opinion, more likely to choose healthier lifestyles, although not entirely guaranteed.

If these kids can be one click away on twitter from R rated content, no matter what their real age, then it stands to reason we start treating them like adults in some aspects of their lives, and realizing that kids are simply maturing in terms of life experiences quicker than adults did when they were that age, and this will most likely continue to change to varying degrees. So why not just arm them with all the information, rather than assuming they are too young to think for themselves.

I'm just saying, what we are doing right now doesn't seem to work great.

Closing Thoughts

While my ideas are in no way final solutions, I am personally tired of hearing this idea that Juul is in some way at fault for the rise in teen e-cigarette use.

Sure, they created a product. Sure, they probably did some shady shit en-route to growing sales to make their company more profitable.

No one force fed these Juuls to the younger generations. The FDA simply did not regulate them enough at the offset, not a shot at the FDA, just a fact of reality. But the education systems have failed to fully adapt their curriculum to fit the 21st century, and kids are hitting the real world more unprepared to become an adult than ever, and here I do speak directly from experience.

Not having a rigid schedule in high school certainly helped me manage my free time, but no one truly showed me the steps of decision making. What was that labeled in high school, critical thinking?

Looking at old novels or poems and using a multi step method to decipher underlying meaning?

What about looking at old tweets and deciphering underlying meaning? No, this doesn't change kids instantly, but it puts the idea in their head, and creates an image in their head of a future ruled by your actions on social media, so be wise.

This goes so much farther than twitter, in the case of the Juul instagram models, but it is just an easy example of how real change can be made on this issue.

To clarify further, in typing this, I did not intend to tell you why Juul should be shut down. As a matter of fact, I would love to see it left open. Part of living in a capitalistic society is understanding that you have free will and an ability to choose what you spend your money on. I want to see if human beings can patrol themselves on their own health, through education, rather than government hand holding.

Over regulating this product for people who could really use it is the opposite direction. While the actions taken against Juul aren't to that level, I would argue that is the direction this seems to be heading. Once these kids hit 18 (or 21 in some areas), they will be legal customers to these companies.

You have four years to allow them to figure out why that is wrong, through proper education that holds applicable ideas for everyday life. Right now, young people are telling the adults of the world that they love Juul, so change their mind, just like Juul in some way allowed young people to believe using an e-cigarette was safer. For fucks sake, just get a social media manager with a little creativity and fight back against Juul in the media, the court room of American democracy in 2019.

My one size in opinion on this does not fit all, but its better than trying to pass legislation or regulations which up to this point, have had no effect, and continue the trends against the youth which have worked poorly before.

It remains to be seen what the future is for this issue, but rest assured, you will be hearing plenty more about this in the coming year.

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