Juuling: “It’s a way of hanging out”
Named “the spotlight of every social setting” by an anonymous Packer student, Juuls have become the recent teen sensation. The slick black vaporizer, which can be found in hidden pockets or high school bathrooms, has sparked what Packer students are describing as “a literal epidemic.”
Juul, a company founded in July 2017, is a nicotine based vaporizer made with the intent of helping adults ease off of cigarettes. While it has contributed to a decline in cigarette usage, it has also caused a new health crisis amongst a generation of teenagers: vaping. According to The Washington Post, 63% percent of 15- to 24-year-olds using Juul were unaware that the product contained nicotine, a chemical that is extremely addictive. Due to the alarming spike in the number of students using Juul, health educators, including those at Packer, and government officials have started creating initiatives to educate teenagers about the dangers of nicotine. The FDA is giving Juul 60 days to work on preventing underage use of this product. If they’re unable to do this, the company’s products might be taken off the market.
“It seemed like an issue that was being talked about nationally and then in the walls of Packer in a very real and alarming way,” said Ms. Bessie Oster, one of Packer’s Upper School health teachers. Through running annual surveys in the tenth grade, the health department has been able to track certain trends or jumps in the substance use at Packer. “We added e-cigarette [usage to the survey] four years ago, and over the course of one year we saw a major jump. It really felt, in my history of doing public health work, [like] an incredibly alarming epidemic.”
How, exactly, did Juul change the data so dramatically?
“The Juul is made to look relatively harmless,” explained one Packer student. It has “flavors that would intrigue kids. [There is also] the fact that you can hide it so easily.”
Many other students echoed similar reasoning. “You don’t see it, you don’t smell it, its very discreet. It’s a safe way to get the same feeling [as that] from cigarettes,” wrote another. Although students have become educated on the dangers of nicotine, it is “the lack of short term impact,” said Ms. Oster, that causes students to feel oblivious to the risks of juuling.
The innocent flavors associated with juuling mask the dangerous and ugly effects of nicotine. “It’s devastating to see a group of kids I care about, who are well educated, being duped by this phenomenon of juuling, which seems like a marketing scam to get students addicted,” said Ms. Oster. It is not, however, just the “slick and easy” design of the Juul that entices teens, but the advertisements themselves.
“Ads often feature young adult or teen-looking people,” said another Packer student. While some students have noticed an abundance of Juul advertisements at corner bodegas, a majority said that they have never seen a Juul advertisement, but rather that social media and social gatherings have been the platform in which people “proudly” publicize their usage.
In social settings, “people who are juuling [often] peer pressure others to join in. We all just want to fit in,” explained one Packer student. Many others echoed the large presence juuling has on social events and friend groups.
“People I look up to have a huge impact on my decisions and my social life. Juuling has definitely impacted my decisions, because I see it in my everyday life.”
Although the advertisements are dangerous to teenagers’ mindsets on this issue, it’s the abundance of people juuling that “makes it seem very casual,” said one student. “I think the sign of prevalence is when something doesn’t get second guessed, and right now when anyone mentions juuling it is quickly understood and accepted as the truth,” said a survey respondent. While the design of the Juul, the flavors, the social pressure, the advertisements, and the lack of short term health impacts all play into the juuling crisis, it is the unspoken rule that juuling will not just be accepted but will even be praised by Packer students that makes this epidemic so alarming.