Jill Berry Bowen

CEO, Northwestern Medical Center

No. “Juuling” is a brand of e-cigarettes/vaping products and, despite claims that this approach is not as bad for a smoker as conventional cigarette smoking (some actually call it simply “less lethal”), it still is not a healthy form of smoking. It is also not approved by the Food & Drug Administration as an aid in quitting smoking.

A Boston Globe article calls Juuling “the most widespread phenomenon you’ve never heard of” and described it as “a new front” in smoking’s “never ending game of cat and mouse between teenagers and adults” with e-cigarette companies such as the Juul brand now making their devices easier for youth to conceal as they are designed to look like USB thumb drives. We are seeing these devices in our community and in our schools, as youth are finding ways around the stated age restriction to purchase these e-cigarettes.

Why the concern? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “E-cigarettes, devices that typically deliver nicotine, flavorings and other additives to users through an inhaled aerosol, are a rapidly emerging trend, and are especially popular among youth and young adults.” The CDC warns, “Scientists are still learning more about how e-cigarettes affect health. However, there is already enough evidence to justify efforts to prevent e-cigarette use by young people. We know that the vapor from e-cigarettes is harmful because it contains harmful ingredients, including nicotine. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing brain … which continues into the early to mid-20s … Because most tobacco use starts during adolescence, actions to protect our nation’s young people from a lifetime of nicotine addiction are critical.”

How lucrative is this market? The CDC reports “E-cigarettes are a $2.5 billion business in the U.S. As of 2014, the e-cigarette industry spent $125 million a year to advertise their products.” Even with age restrictions in place, the CDC reports that “youth are more likely than adults to use e-cigarettes” and that “In 2016, more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 4.3 percent of middle school students and 11.3 percent of high school students.” E-cigarette use is now outpacing conventional cigarette use among U.S. high school students. The Vermont Department of Health reports that “e-cigarettes come in over 7,000 flavors, including candy and fruit flavorings know to appeal to youth.” Their marketing – which often focuses on kid-friendly flavors like mango – is working even here in our community, as VDH reports that “nearly 1 in 4 Vermont high school students have tried a flavored tobacco product.”

Adults can have a strong influence on a young person’s use of e-cigarettes. To get a conversation started, the U.S. Surgeon General’s website recommends avoiding criticism and encouraging an open dialogue – remembering “your goal is to have a conversation, not to deliver a lecture” and that “it’s OK for your conversation to take place of time, in bits and pieces.” There is a wonderful resource for conversations with kids about e-cigarettes located here. It will help you with answers to questions that teens may ask.

Our youth are also powerful voices themselves. Please join these youth of our community and help raise awareness that e-cigarettes/vaping and “Juuling” are not healthy forms of smoking. For help with quitting tobacco, including personal support and access to free nicotine replacement, please reach out to 802quits.org. Let your elected officials know that more needs to be done to prevent nicotine addiction and the other costly complications of tobacco use in our community. And please, join in on our movement to embrace healthy lifestyles. Connect with RiseVT on social media or at our RiseVT.org website and join the fun of active play as one more step on your path to a healthier future!