It charges in your computer, it’s small enough to fit snugly in your pocket, and it can even be used without anyone knowing about it.
This is how teenagers smoke nowadays.
Vaping — inhaling and exhaling vapor produced by a battery-powered electronic cigarette, usually containing nicotine– has become increasingly popular among teens around the country. According to the Surgeon General, nearly one in four middle and high school students have tried it.
One of the most popular vaping devices, made by Juul, a San Francisco-based company, looks a lot like a flash drive. Among a new generation of sleek, concealable e-cigarettes that have flooded the market in the last year, Juuls have become widely used among students, so much so that “Juul” is now commonly used as a verb.
The discretion is clearly part of its appeal. In school, techniques for hiding the white vapor include blowing into your shirt, or holding it in your mouth until it becomes invisible. Juul devices produce flavored vapors and create very little plume, allowing students to sometimes even get away with vaping in class.
E-cigarette makers claim that their devices offer a much safer alternative to smoking conventional cigarettes. But as many school officials struggle to control the rapid rise of vaping among their students, some fear the devices are creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.
Meanwhile, public health researchers argue that the technology is too new to understand the long-term health effects, particularly among young people.
And although vaping devices don’t have many of the harmful ingredients found in standard tobacco cigarettes, they’re often used with pods that contain higher concentrations of nicotine. A growing body of public health research suggests that vaping is actually leading more young people to start smoking cigarettes.
Vaping companies defend their high-nicotine products as necessary to meet the needs of heavy smokers trying to transition away from traditional cigarettes. But their accessibility and the marketing strategies associated with them have successfully attracted a growing number of teens.
“I️ was smoking cigarettes as a coping mechanism, which is obviously incredibly awful, and I️ knew I️ had to stop, so I️ turned to Juuling,” said a junior from Lowell High School in San Francisco who didn’t want her name used.
Trevor, a student at Lowell who doesn not vape, described the current fad:
“A ton of [people] have Juuls. I think it’s a popularity thing. You’re considered cooler if you have a Juul and hit it all the time.”
It wasn’t until 2016 that the FDA banned students under 18 from legally accessing e-cigarettes, and rules now vary widely by state. In California, the minimum age is 21, but there’s little stopping an 18-year-old student here from buying a vaping device online from a state like Texas, where the minimum age is much lower.
While vaping companies say they are opposed to underage use, many teens note how easy it is to purchase devices, either by going to smoke shops that don’t check IDs or ordering them off of secondary sites like eBay.
“When I got to vaping, I could physically do it anytime, anywhere and it wouldn’t matter, and so you get used to just sipping on it,” said a high school senior from San Jose who didn’t want his name used. He admits he’s definitely become somewhat addicted, but isn’t too concerned about it.
“I have confidence I could stop, it’s not a long-time thing, but I’m at a point where it doesn’t really matter. I’m young and I really enjoy it.”